I am participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. My theme is open-ended. My goal is to write daily posts using each letter of the alphabet in April (Sundays off for good behavior and to make it work for the alphabet). I’ll be writing family stories, memoir or journal prompts, reviews about theatre and food, maybe a visit from my sock puppet characters Millie and Willie, and using photos I’ve taken along the way. Enjoy!

IImprov and dementia are an exciting and exhilarating combination. In March, I had the opportunity to attend the Meeting of the Minds conference in St. Paul, MN. The whole day was devoted to topics related to dementia and aging. It was very well attended by over 1300 people! The keynote speakers were Dr. Mary Mittelman and Dr. Donald Warne. Dr. Mittelman spoke on the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia on the community, specifically the caregivers. She founded The Unforgetables in New York, a chorus for people with dementia and their family members/caregivers. She showed a video that gave me goosebumps as I saw all the singers involved, engaged, singing, smiling, laughing, and yes, even crying. One woman said, “No pill is necessary. Replace it with this (music.)” My musician heart soared. My tender heart shed a few tears. Music is a language that we never forget. I was there with my friend Sandy who is the activities director and music therapist at a local facility. We already knew the power of music and its ability to connect. It was nice to see the research to back it up.

Dr. Warne gave us the message that “We all drink from the same stream.” Meaning, we all are human beings walking this earth together. He comes from North Dakota State University with a Masters in Public Health, Senior Policy Advisor, and Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Health Board. He talked much about prevention. Go further upstream, he said, and find the source. Holistic health is important for all of us.

The main reason I signed up for the conference was to learn about Improv and Dementia. The presenters were Evan Bass and Miranda Noelle Wilson. They were part of a research creative team that studied the effects of theatre on the Alzheimer’s community. They said that the interactions they created through their Scripted-Improv sessions greatly reduced the four A’s of Alzheimer’s: Anxiety, Agitation, Aggression, and Apathy. They had people engaged in this activity that had barely participated in anything else at the various facilities where they presented their program. Staff members would tell them that someone who hadn’t spoken in months, had been an active participant. Family members said that they were able to interact with their loved ones, even for a brief time. 

Improv means to be in the moment. One of the hardest things about dementia is that a person’s sense of time is interrupted. Many patients are in some other time zone in their heads, and the frustrated caregiver, or family member, tries unsuccessfully to pull them back into the current time. When doing Improv/theatre exercises with the residents, the time doesn’t matter. We create our own time, and story, together. 

My friend Beth Selinger and I are making plans to do this in a local assisted living facility. We’ll have two groups, the Wisecrackers who are in the Independent and Assisted living areas, and the Timeless Troupe, people who are in the memory care unit. We are both theatre people. I play the piano. We both can sing, and maybe dance a little. We’ve been practicing some improv. I’m up for writing loose scripts for the sessions, and I’d like to invite some of my young students from theatre class in to help.

From the website for Scripted-IMPROV, The world of theater awakens new expression through language, movement, and song. Ideas, thoughts, and feelings appear where apathy once reigned. We’ll be starting our program in May. I’m sure I’ll be posting thoughts and reactions to it as we go. My word for the year is EVOLVE. And, here is another example how my teaching/acting/music career is evolving.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Do you know anyone whose lives have been affected by dementia? Have you ever done any improv or theatre classes? Have you witnessed the results of music, art, or theatre therapy?