It can be difficult to connect with a loved one living with dementia. Sometimes it seems like you just can’t see eye to eye and depression and frustration start to dominate your interactions. They have trouble seeing the reality the two of you have built together over a lifetime, and sometimes the things they say just don’t make sense or feel like the person you know.
Fortunately, there is a strange group of people who have learned to be in the moment, adapt to changes, and find the truth of a relationship even when the facts are changing. More than that, they manage to laugh and have fun in tough situations. These people are improv comedians and what they do is something you can learn and practice in everyday life.
These improv comedy techniques will teach you to adapt, manage stress, find creativity, and have more positive interactions with your loved ones.
You may have heard of ‘Yes And’ which is the most central tenant of improv. ‘Yes’ does not mean you have to agree with the other person on everything, it simply means you accept the reality they present to you as true and build on it with them. If your loved one tells you about the time they met the queen of England, just say yes to a world where they met the queen of England instead of arguing about their reality by reminding them they never traveled outside of Texas. YES I remember reading about it AND I heard your hat was fabulous! You can ask yourself ‘if this is true, then what else is true’ to generate ideas but you always have to start as if their statement is real. Your loved one will be excited to carry on the conversation and you may learn more about each other even if the original premise isn’t true to you. Take each thing they tell you and build on it with them. This way instead of feeling that your loved one has drifted away from your reality, it can become a journey that you build together and you will get to learn more about how they see and experience the world.
Improv is all about working together as a team. When you make your partner look great, you look great. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to share the work of a conversation. It can become easy to start asking the other person questions to try and figure out where they are coming from but this turns into an interview and leaves all the heavy lifting to them. Questions can also be frustrating to someone with dementia, so try turning your questions into statements whenever possible. It is better to make assumptions and keep things moving along than to get lost in the minutia especially when talking to someone whose memory does not work like yours. Explain how you feel about something, tell your own stories, and build on the information they give you instead of interrogating. Share the load.
The whole point of comedy and caregiving centers around the relationship. It’s not the details that matter, but the quality of the time you are spending together. Everything here is designed to keep this in focus and build trust. Share yourself, and give room for your loved one to share themselves with you without judgment. Some of the things your loved one will say to you may seem totally out of character, they had a certain role in your life like parent or grandparent and the new unfiltered version can feel shocking. Let them explore the topics they are interested and see if you can get to know them on a deeper level.
Follow The Fun
Life has enough pain built in. Try not to beat yourself up and allow yourself to have fun in whatever little way you can. Improv games can be a way to de-stress with other caregivers and help you get out of your head and into the moment you are sharing together. Don’t close off your own creativity and mental health and just follow what feels good to you and your loved one. You have permission to take liberties with the facts, be creative, enjoy yourself, and spend time in your loved one’s reality without guilt.