Acting out a scene without preparation while making the other guy look good
Consider the changing dynamics when a family member becomes the caregiver for another adult family member. A previously competent, independent, possibly very successful adult is no longer totally in charge of his/her life. If that person has mild cognitive impairment or more advanced dementia his autonomy is diminished to an even greater extent.
You can’t change what may be happening to your loved one, but thinking like an improv actor can result in a more meaningful and a less frustrating experience, particularly when caring for a loved one with memory loss.
The following article talks about the ten principles of improv. I have taken each principle and given an example of how it can be applied to a caregiving situation.
Listening: In the case of someone with memory loss, means to listen not to the literal words but to the emotion, concern, worry, or anxiety beneath the words.
‘Yes, and’ (Agreement): means to accept what’s being offered rather trying to control the situation by blocking the person’s efforts to communicate by correcting them, re-orienting them, or simply stopping them with words like ‘no’, ‘you mean’, ‘that wasn’t yesterday – it was 20 years ago’ ….. you get the idea.
Team Work: Neither of you asked for this situation, but now you’re in it together. Making the person ‘look good’ will help you both feel better. ‘That’s a great idea’, ‘Why didn’t I think of that’, find projects/activities he can still do and complement him on a job well done!
Don’t Block: If your loved one offers to do something that he/she can no longer do (fold laundry, set the table, wash the dishes) – and it isn’t a safety concern – let them do it. What does it matter if it isn’t exactly ‘right’ if they feel good about the accomplishment. Find ways to allow success! You’ll both feel better!
Relationship: As a family caregiver you are now caring for someone with whom you’ve had a lifelong relationship. They may not behave like the person you had known, but that person is still there and needs the love, reassurance, and acceptance that each of us needs – even when we don’t know how to ask for it.
Initiation: ‘This is the who, what and where of the scene’. This is your life right now and while at times it may feel like a burden, staying open to the experience, embracing rather than resenting this phase of your life will enable you be more creative and competent in the situation.
Point of View, Opinion & Intention: You are who you are! Begin each day with a choice to make this relationship a positive experience for you both. When that fails (and some days it will) forgive yourself, forgive your loved one, and try again!
Be in Character: It may take time to learn who you are in this new role. No one said it has to come naturally. You may be surprised to discover what a resilient, caring, and determined person you can be.
Don’t Ask Questions: This is particularly important with individuals suffering from dementia . Though you may not intend it, questions put them on the spot and can be embarrassing if they don’t have an answer. Example: instead of ‘what do you want for dinner’, try ‘we’re having chicken for dinner – grilled the way you like it’! OK?
Make Active Choices: If your Mom dressed herself in stripes, plaids and a wool cap to go to the grocery store with you – who cares? If her lipstick ended up well beyond her lips – who cares? If she likes to carry a doll – who cares? Would you rather embarrass her by making her change, re-doing her makeup, or confiscating the doll – or put up with a little embarrassment yourself? Show her who cares!! Yes, And!!!