Using Comedy Improv Techniques with a Senior Who has Alzheimer's

  • September 04, 2017

During the early stages of Alzheimer’s, most people experience anxiety and stress as they come to accept the realities of the disease. Much of it stems from the idea that, at some point, they will no longer be able to care for themselves.

Anything that helps calm these difficult emotions can go a long way toward improving the well-being of people with Alzheimer’s. One technique that shows promise is comedy improv. 

Using Comedy Improv Techniques for Seniors With Alzheimer’s

As it turns out, many of the stressors associated with Alzheimer’s disease can be addressed by improv comedy techniques. Pilot programs designed to teach improv skills to people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers have sprung up across the country. They can provide insight as to why this method seems to work. 

Alzheimer’s and Comedy Improv: Why Does it Work?

During the early stages of Alzheimer’s, before the disease has progressed enough to cause dramatic lifestyle changes, symptoms may come and go. Forgetfulness, mood swings, and depression are just a few of the myriad symptoms that can plague seniors who have Alzheimer’s

Comedy improv, with its focus on living in the moment, may relive some of the stress of having to remember things. Likewise, worrying about the uncertainties of their future can also be stressful. The here and now is a safe, comfortable place to be for someone with Alzheimer’s. 

Improv Means ‘No Experience Required’

Improv is a type of theatre where there’s no script. This means there’s nothing for actors to memorize. In fact, the whole basis of how improv theatre works dovetails perfectly with the type of activities that suit people with Alzheimer’s.

With improv comedy, there is no time for the actors to think. That can relieve the pressure associated with trying to use memory to communicate. Improv calls upon actors to simply react, rather than to think deeply. Instinct plays a large role, too.

This can all be comforting since complex problem-solving skills often start to wane even during the early stages of Alzheimer’s

Improv Draws Upon Older Memories, Not Short-Term Memory

Actors who love comedy improv describe it as “reverting back to childhood.” It’s fairly typical for people with Alzheimer’s to retain older memories, say from childhood, even when their short-term memory is failing. 

Seniors who participate in comedy improv sessions just need to bring themselves and their creativity. With these simple tools, they can be successful at meeting the easy, stress-free challenges presented to them by improv teachers or group leaders. 

For people with Alzheimer’s, feeling successful doesn’t happen as often as it did before their diagnosis. Improv sessions provide a break from the rules of everyday life, and can possibly even help them improve quality of life. 

Improving the Quality of Life for Residents at Five Star Senior Living 

Comedy improv as a treatment for Alzheimer’s symptoms may sound far-fetched. But the reality is, improv is based on sound principles of good caregiving. It’s qualities like these—attention, respect, and compassion—that form the foundation of the Memory Care program at Five Star. 

If you’d like to learn more about Alzheimer’s care at Five Star Senior Living, call the community nearest you. We’ll be happy to share more information about our innovative Bridge to Rediscovery Program.


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