Improvisation Helps Caregivers Serve Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s

DUBUQUE – Dennis Hurd pulls up a YouTube video on his phone.

“Of course, we put up with the ads,” he says with a laugh.

The words to Elvis Presley’s “In the Garden” fill the air.

“My wife and I go to a memory care unit in Davenport…every Sunday evening,” explains Hurd.

His wife has had Alzheimer’s for five years.

“This is a favorite hymn of one of the residents there…she says that it’s her favorite song of her mother that passed away many years ago…these people still have an emotional reaction to…the people of their lives. When she hears this hymn, she very often cries and remembers and her mother.”

It’s all about connection.

While Hurd knows music helps him and his wife connect, he’s also been practicing a skill that will give him and his wife the ability to communicate better than ever.

Improvisation.

“When I was caring for my mother, I discovered that a wonderful way to do that was to use techniques that I was learning in my improvisational theater classes,” says Reverend Doctor Jade Angelica.

As the founder of “Healing Moments for Alzheimer’s,” she now travels the country putting on workshops for Alzheimer’s and Dementia caregivers.

At Sinsinawa Mound, she delivers a two-day workshop to roughly 15 caregivers in the Tri-State area.

But her workshops have an entirely different twist, using improv games and exercises to demonstrate how to hold better conversations with those that have Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Using basic improv tactics, such as saying “yes,” making your partner look as good as possible, and rolling with whatever scenario your partner presents are all crucial to being the best caregiver possible, explains Rev. Dr. Angelica during the program.

“Most people who attend these workshops are in their 70s and their 80s, and it’s just absolutely wonderful to see them participating in these improvisational exercises…but they’re also having a lot of fun,” says Rev. Dr. Angelica.

One moment, the caregivers are partnering up, mirroring each other’s movements and making crazy sound effects to work on listening and understanding.

The next, they’re standing in a circle holding hands, quietly reflecting on the workshop and sharing their experiences with one another.

The caregivers come together to support one another as they support their loved ones back home.

“If you have a have a good caregiver, you’re going to have a better Alzheimer’s patient,” says Jim Theisen, a workshop attendee.

His wife Marita has had Alzheimer’s for six years now.

But with the new skills he’s learned from Rev. Dr. Angelica, he feels better prepared to meet his wife wherever she might be.

 

He repeats the common phrase that Rev. Dr. Angelica taught her workshop attendees.

“Yes, let’s.”

It’s a pledge to work together, support one another, and connect with loved ones in any way possible, whether through dialogue, improv, or music.

Hurd pulls up another video on his phone.

“And this is one of my favorite ones…it talks about being able to communicate with people even when they can’t talk.”

The words to one of Alison Krauss’s most popular songs begin ringing throughout the room.

It’s a message that Hurd carries with him even when communication with his wife is difficult.

He mouths along to the words that he knows that ring true in his heart.

“You say it best when you say nothing at all.”

 

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