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Employing Improv for Dementia

Karen and Mondy giving a talk
One source of inspiration to us in our work at Mon Ami has been an episode from the podcast This American Life called Rainy Days and Mondys.

It’s a fun and beautiful story of a woman named Karen and her husband Mondy. They’re trained actors and learn to employ the art of improv (improvisational acting) in communicating with Karen’s mom, who has dementia.

Through improv, they find ways to inhabit a new reality together and create moments of delight wherever they can.

The podcast and TED Talks video are worth checking out:

The techniques of improv can be useful for anyone who spends time with a loved one who has dementia. Below we list out some of the rules of improv and how someone can employ these techniques with their loved one.

  • Use rules of improv when communicating: “Always say Yes” – and “Yes, and…” – Agree with what the dementia patient says (as’ long as it’s not dangerous!) and build off of it. For example, a patient may say, “I saw my husband on the street” (when he in fact passed away). Using improv, you can respond with, “Yes, and how was he doing?” to continue the conversation.
  • Make a statement, rather than ask a question. Sometimes, with dementia patients, asking questions can cause stress or concern. Instead, make a statement – to continue the conversation. So instead of asking how the husband was doing, you can say, “Yes, and he was on his way to work.”
  • Accept the patient’s reality/go with the flow: A patient may believe certain objects are other objects. Help move the conversation along by accepting their reality, rather than correcting them.
While caring for a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s can be difficult at times, these techniques can be helpful in connecting with their loved one and improving the day-to-day quality-of-life and interactions.