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Improvisation Can Help to Heal — Even Trauma, Even Alzheimer’s

Here article submitted from one of our members, Dr. Jade Angelica.  You will find more information about Dr Angelica’s work at the bottom of this article.      

Improvisation Can Help to Heal —

Even Trauma, Even Alzheimer’s  

I’m a trauma survivor. Like many other survivors – like many people, actually – I tend to be fearful of the unknown. Because of our fear, we often try to deny unwanted realities or to control what happens next in a desperate attempt to know the future. Improvisation performer, teacher, and author of Impro: Improvisation and The Theatre, Keith Johnstone, calls us “no-sayers.” Through our efforts, he says, we experience more safety. Alternatively, “yes-sayers,” – those who accept what is and are comfortable not knowing what will be – experience more adventure.

In the arena of improvisational theatre, Johnstone’s assessment may be a primary truth. In the arena of real life, though, another, deeper truth about no-sayers and yes-sayers emerges. By saying “yes” to what is – accepting reality – and wondering about, rather than fearing the future, we can experience more healing. Johnstone proposes that we no-sayers can learn to say “yes,” and my own life is a hopeful testament to this possibility.

I discovered improvisation during a truly terrible time in my life. An abusive relationship had ended, and the dividing of our mutually owned property and assets was festering in the courts. My suffering was evident to everyone. A wise friend suggested that, in addition to my therapy and support group, I might benefit from having some fun. She encouraged me to attend an improvisation class. I did and my life changed forever.

At first, I was terrified. The other students were much younger extroverts with a knack for comedy. Many were actors interested in improving their performance skills. I was the only sad, frightened introvert seeking healing. The first few classes I cowered in the corner, hoping with all my strength that the teacher wouldn’t call on me to participate in an exercise in front of the class. He didn’t. After the third class, as I walked alone down the stairs of the studio, I heard that judgmental little voice inside proclaiming firmly and sarcastically, “Well, you’re certainly getting your money’s worth out of this, aren’t you!?” That awareness was all I needed to propel me into participating fully in the class; and as my friend predicted, it was such fun!

The camaraderie among classmates, the hilarity, and the laughter facilitated the first level of healing that I experienced. The class raised my energy and resurrected my joy. Soon, though, I began to notice that the principles of improvisation resembled spiritual qualities I had studied in theology classes, practiced through prayer and meditation, and aspired to integrate into my life, such as:

  • Attentive listening
  • Being present in the moment
  • Expanding awareness and observation
  • Letting go of the need to control – or even know – what happens next
  • Being open to noticing and receiving what the situation is offering
  • Responding in a way that is supportive and promotes self-esteem
  • Acknowledging our interdependence
  • Opening ourselves up to previously unimagined possibilities
  • Experiencing, embracing, and expressing joy

I discovered through experience that all of these qualities – embodied in the practice of improvisation – could lead me to healing.

The reason that improvisation surprises us with its healing potential is because we think that this creative drama craft is about comedy and performance and being outrageously clever or quick-witted. But it’s not. At it’s core, improvisation is about being obvious, and saying or doing the next logical thing; it’s about being authentic; it’s about exploring what it means to be human. My first teacher, David LaGraffe in Portland, Maine, has moved away from improv comedy over the years, focusing now on what he calls “pure improv.” He describes pure improv as “an unconditional welcoming of the present moment.” From this perspective, he continues, “Improvisation is not so much inventive as it is revelatory. We learn to trust that everything we need is already here, waiting to be discovered – if we are willing to be open to it.”

My efforts to heal from my failed relationship led me to the revelations of improvisation and helped me see my life patterns of resistance and control. Previously, in my no-saying life, I used will, skill, and persistence, trying to make situations fit my preferences when I didn’t like or want what was happening. When resistance is implemented in an improvised scene, it’s called “blocking the offer.” This is the realm of no-saying – where scared improvisers seek safety – and it inevitably leads to a very bad scene. The awareness of my resistance became indisputable (even to me) during a class scene when my partner said: “I’ve dropped my contact lens on the floor.” I blocked her and substituted my will for how the scene should unfold. “Oh no,” I replied. “It’s probably still in your eye. Let me look.” Then, I moved closer to have a look in her eye.

Even in a class during a theatre game, I couldn’t accept the reality my partner had described – that she dropped her contact lens. If I had made the obvious response and said, “Yikes! Contact on the Floor! I’m afraid to move!” my partner would have felt heard and possibly an interesting scene would have evolved. What happened instead was conflict. “No,” she said, angrily, as she pushed me away. “I dropped it.”

After coming face to face with my pattern of no-saying that night, my life changed. Subsequently, through my practice of improvisation with my mother during the years she had Alzheimer’s disease, her life changed, and our relationship healed. Over the past nine years, I have passed this healing through improvisation onto thousands of other Alzheimer’s caregivers all across the country through programs offered by Healing Moments™, the non-profit organization I founded for caregiver education. (www.healingmoments.org) The practice of communicating and connecting with persons with dementia through improvisation is now going mainstream: Neuropsychologists at the University of Iowa are studying the impact of the two-day workshop for Alzheimer’s family caregivers that I developed for Healing Moments™.

My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2001, and three years later I travelled from Maine to Iowa to spend two weeks caring for her while my sibling, who lived with Mom, went on vacation. It was my first time being alone with someone who had Alzheimer’s and I was worried about this unknown, especially because my sibling told me that Mom was angry, combative, and uncooperative.

I prepared myself for this presumed terrifying experience by searching the Internet for caregiving ideas (finding few in 2004) and ordering a newly published book, Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s by Joanne Koenig Coste. While reading the book in the plane, I had a “flash” of an idea that trying improvisation with Mom – meeting her in her world, as all the experts were suggesting – might work. And it did!

During those two weeks Mom gave me countless opportunities to practice saying “yes” to her reality. When I was able to meet her in her world she wasn’t the angry, combative person I was expecting. One meeting with Mom that was both sweet and touching involved her sister, Milly. We had planned an outing to the nursing home to visit her friend, Martin, and when it was nearly time to go, I asked Mom, “Are you ready?”

Visibly upset by my question, she replied, “We can’t go.”

I reacted with curiosity. “But I thought you wanted to see Marty.”

“Not now,” Mom said. “This is the time that Milly comes to visit me.”

Milly died in 1991; we had planted flowers on her grave the day before. Instead of correcting Mom and possibly demeaning her for forgetting or breaking her heart by reminding her that her sister was long dead, I chose to improvise. I joined Mom in her world – where we were expecting Milly.

So, I said the next logical thing.  “Well, what would you think about leaving Milly a note, telling her where we are, and asking her to come in and wait for us?”

After pausing for a moment, Mom said, “That’s a good idea.”

“OK,” I said. “Could you get a piece of paper and a pencil, and we’ll write the note?”

“Oh, Yes. I’ll do that.” And off Mom went to find the paper and pencil. I wrote the note, Mom taped it to the door, and off we went to visit Marty.

Improvisers would call my response “advancing the offer.” Alzheimer’s experts would identify this as a “therapeutic fiblet.” Spiritual teachers would call this accepting reality – Mom’s reality, according to Alzheimer’s – and would remind us that accepting reality in the present provides the most positive springboard into the future. Researchers have informed us that this kind of radical acceptance is the only coping technique to relieve caregiver stress.

Through improvisation, Mom and I allowed her reality to spring us into a future that overflowed with connection and healing. The day before I was leaving to return to Maine, Mom was able to tell me that my efforts to learn about Alzheimer’s, my attempts to communicate creatively by using improvisation, and my compassionate attention had made an impression on her. She looked up at me from her chair in the living room, and said, “Will you stay and take care of me? You’re so kind to me.” In reply, my heart shouted out, “Yes!” – and in that moment, my yes-saying, healing adventure into Alzheimer’s sprouted wings.

Although I may not be “perfectly OK” with the unknown future, as my diploma from ImprovBoston proclaims, this recovering no-sayer is now more curious than I am afraid about what is yet to be revealed.

More about Dr. Jade Angelica

Jade is the founder and director of Healing Moments for Alzheimer’s (www.healingmoments.org) and the author of Where Two Worlds Touch: A Spiritual Journey Through Alzheimer’s Disease.  She is an Author, Minister, Spiritual Director, Caregiver – offering spiritual direction and Alzheimer’s inspiration for individuals and groups. Hoping to make a difference!

Follow Jade C. Angelica on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jadeangelica1

 

 

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 “Feedback from the conference planning committee and our leadership team was extremely positive. Many attendees commented that she was one of the best speakers they had heard.” 

Pat Sylvia, Director of Education & Member Development LeadingAge Washington

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Tips to Reduce and Remove Unwanted Behaviors in Dementia

Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio with

Trevor Mumby from the U.K.

Listen Below

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018 –

2pm EST, 1pm CST, 12pm MST, 11am PST, 7pm London

Lori La Bey host of Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio is thrilled to interview Trevor Mumby from the U.K..  The two have tried for several years to get their schedules to mesh and Tuesday, April 24th at 1pm it finally worked out!  Tune in for a fun and uplifting conversation between two passionate advocates changing perceptions of dementia and learn brilliant tips Trevor has to offer to bring joy to those living with dementia, their families as well as professionals.  

Watch Below

Email Trevor to Get His Books:

Trevor@Mumbys.com

Coming Soon!

Contact Trevor Mumby:    

Website:    

Email Trevor to Get His Books:   Trevor@Mumbys.com

Go to www.AlzheimersSpeaks.com for additional resources 

Looking for a Keynoter, Consultant or Trainer?

See what LeadingAge has to say

about Lori La Bey

 “Feedback from the conference planning committee and our leadership team was extremely positive. Many attendees commented that she was one of the best speakers they had heard.” 

Pat Sylvia, Director of Education & Member Development LeadingAge Washington

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Poetry: The Long Goodbye

Here is another poem from one of our members, Joanne Souvercaze.

The Long Goodbye

By: Joanne Souvercaze        

 

Aging is honorable, a distinguished experience that we are blessed to experience

Age brings wisdom, age creates a lifetime of experiences surrounded by love, faith, family and friends

Creating memories that are beautiful, significant, extraordinary yet some are sad and difficult

Life is not perfection, it is living and embracing each moment we are given

Sadly for some, time becomes less memorable, less distinguished, more debilitating, for those whom are diagnosed with dementia (in our father case…Lewy Body dementia)

An experience so debilitating, disabling and difficult for all loved ones involved

Dementia for many, can be difficult to accept

As time goes on, so goes the mind

 

So says the one who has been diagnosed….

I don’t believe I have this condition called dementia, for I feel fine

They say I do, but I won’t accept it, not for sometime

Eventually I will have no choice, for I will have no knowledge of this thing called dementia and will be forced to accept what I do not know

They begin to take away my privileges, for why, I don’t understand

Is it because I now see images

I cannot drive is what they say, but I believe I can, I don’t understand

As said the father whom was diagnosed

As time goes on, so goes the mind

 

I knew you and loved you in days past, I know you and love you today, but tomorrow for I may not know your name or remember how much I loved thee

I cannot comprehend my thoughts

confused and scared each day

I want to fix this thing they say

that makes me so confused each day

I did not sign up for this I vow

just take me to the doctor now

My pride is gone and all my rights

I feel alone, misunderstood and oh so frightened

As said the father whom was diagnosed

As time goes on, so goes the mind

 

I need to go to where I know, for I feel this is not my home

Why do they keep me locked up here, for when my home is oh so near

I try to walk, they bring me back, they don’t understand…. I am a man

They say I must, this is my home, I do not care too, I have no say

I reached an age where I was free, free to choose my own way, but now….no more

I’m oh so tired watching these people, so many exhaust me, for I just need rest

All I ask is peace and quiet, and please remove these unwanted guest

Take me back to the home I remember, so I can stay forever, until my dying day

As said the father whom was diagnosed

As time goes on, so goes the mind

 

As time passes so do my precious memories, of my loved ones near and far,

for soon I won’t know who you are

I knew and loved you yesterday, somewhat today, for tomorrow I may not know your name

I yearn to have my family near, yet when they are…I oh so fear,  and push them far away, for the confusion is overwhelming

These strangers once I knew and loved, but now I know no more

Although this disease may have defeated, my love for you is ever eternal

Please know how much you meant to me, for when I forgot you, you were kind to me. And at those times I fought with thee, you never ever gave up on me

Deep in my heart my love for you, will always be, will always stay, until my dying day, until that last heartfelt beat

As time goes on, so goes the mind

 

Near the end I ask of you, are you my son are you my daughter, yes you answer, then that is why you so kind to me, please forever remember I loved all of thee

The end is near, although I may fear, I will be eternally with my dear wife once more, for that is where I want to go

And when I pass I pray you know, how deeply I loved you all, then, now and through eternal life my darling children

As time goes on, so goes the mind

 

Looking for a Speaker?

See what LeadingAge has to say

about Lori La Bey

 “Feedback from the conference planning committee and our leadership team was extremely positive. Many attendees commented that she was one of the best speakers they had heard.” 

Pat Sylvia, Director of Education & Member Development LeadingAge Washington

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Poem: A Weekend

Today we have another heartfelt poem submitted by one of our community members.

Enjoy, comment and/or send in your own prose.

A Weekend

By Cheryl Kempner

 

Sitting standing walking no talking

Sitting standing walking no talking

Sitting standing walking no talking

Where has she gone

Where is she now

She’s here but not

Like a body without a soul

Or a soul without a mind

Sitting gazing … gazing at what?

What does she think?

What does she see?

Is she in there?

Where is she?

What happened to my mother?

 

Sitting standing walking no talking

How much longer will she know my name

How much longer will she know of my existence 

How much longer will she know me

How much longer will she be

Sitting standing walking no talking

The days are long and quiet

The questions are repetitive 

The answers are the same

The stare is empty

She is dazed

The smile is gone

What are you thinking

Are you in there

Sitting standing walking no talking

No laughter 

No conversation

No focus

No comprehension

No memories 

No nothing 

Sitting standing walking no talking

 

Looking for a Speaker?

See what LeadingAge has to say

about Lori La Bey

 “Feedback from the conference planning committee and our leadership team was extremely positive. Many attendees commented that she was one of the best speakers they had heard.” 

Pat Sylvia, Director of Education & Member Development LeadingAge Washington

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Meal Planning Help When Caring For Another

Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio with

Meal Planner,  Sara Scholtens

Lori La Bey, Founder and Host of Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio will talk with Sara Scholtens about meal planning when caring for another. She knows she has been a care partner for her father and what got her interested in meal planning for her own family and others. Learn how it can save you time, money and improve your health.  Get some paper and a pen to take notes!

 

Reach Sara Scholtens via:

Phone:  612-310-7630
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Plan.Eat.Be.Well.With.Sara/
Website:  www.mywildtree.com/Sara-Scholtens

 

Looking for a Speaker?

See what LeadingAge has to say

about Lori La Bey

 “Feedback from the conference planning committee and our leadership team was extremely positive. Many attendees commented that she was one of the best speakers they had heard.” 

Pat Sylvia, Director of Education & Member Development LeadingAge Washington

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Learning a Language Can Be Good for Your Mental Health

 Learning a Language Can Be Good for Your Mental Health

By Christina Comben

Learning a language can have many positive effects on our health and happiness. It’s like taking our brains to the gym! We learn new words and meanings, and the old gray matter benefits from our efforts.

Yep, conjugating verbs and perfecting pronunciation helps to improve our cognitive abilities, stimulate creativity and keep us younger!

When we speak two, three, or more languages, our brains stay active for longer, among other benefits.

Here’s what science has to say:

Scientific Study: Bilingualism Helps You Slow down Dementia

Bilingualism helps slow down dementia, according to one of the biggest studies on the effects of language learning by Edinburgh University and Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India.

The study confirms the theory that language learning is a form of mental training. In fact, the most efficient form of training, by now. When you learn a language, you teach your brain to recognize new meanings, sounds and symbols. Your mind learns to think using two different set of rules – defined by grammar and syntax.

You manage to go from one language to another and to think in two different ways. This exercise keeps your brain in good shape and can slow down degenerative processes. This means that bilinguals develop dementia and Alzheimer’s later in life (about 4.5 years later). 

The discovery puts learning a language on top of the most effective therapies for preventing brain degeneration – better than medicine, according to Dr. Thomas Bak, of the Center of Cognitive Aging and Cognitive Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh.

This news certainly gives new perspectives to linguists and language specialists. Carina Cesano, Managing Director of Clear Words Translations, is fluent in three languages and learning a fourth. She says, “I have always been fascinated by languages, but I didn’t know until recently that they also had surprising benefits for your mental health.”

Language Learning Improves Memory

Another study by the Swedish Armed Forces Interpreter Academy revealed that learning a language can make brains grow! Students who went through an intense language learning program were tested before and after the course. Their brains developed during the 13-month period – the hippocampus and three areas in the cerebral cortex were larger than at the beginning of the study.

The hippocampus is responsible, among other things, for converting short-term memories into long-term memories. And, the cerebral cortex plays an essential role in perception, language, consciousness, attention and memory.

So, by learning a new language, you can improve your long-term memory and work with information better (the so-called working memory). That’s to say, you become more productive, as you analyze situations faster and come up with creative solutions to daily problems.

Learning and memory are linked at deep levels. When learning a language, your brain gets stronger. Its connections become more flexible and the gray matter denser. In the long run, your brain will work more efficiently. Which means you not only improve your memory, but you actually become more intelligent!

This is good news for language lovers! “I can’t look into the future, but what I have already noticed is that my memory has improved since I have been learning other languages,” Cesano enthuses. “I will keep on with my learning as long as possible!”

Learning a Language Helps You to Stay Concentrated on Your Tasks

As you learn to switch from one language to another, you become better at switching between daily tasks, as well. This ability allows you to work on several projects at a time and pass from one activity to another with less effort.

In time, you learn to differentiate the relevant information from fluff and prioritize. This way, you manage to maintain your concentration on things that matter and to ignore distractions. You develop patience, as well, meaning you’ll be able to follow long-term goals without letting yourself get influenced by possible immediate results.

You also learn to listen to people around you. You get better at accepting different points of view. You can also look at challenges from different angles, determining better decisions – in financial, professional, and personal matters.

You Can Start Learning a Language at Any Age

Bilinguals develop a wide series of abilities, no matter when they start learning a second language. A few decades ago, scientist believed that language learning could change brain development only on children.

More recent studies have shown that age is less relevant. People who started studying languages after their 18th birthday registered improved results in intelligence tests, as well. According to Dr. Thomas Bak, bilingualism can help aging brains, even when acquired in adulthood.

In simple words, it’s never too late to learn a new language. It makes you stronger, happier and can even increase self-esteem and self-confidence. You have fun and improve your mental health while discovering new people and new cultures at the same time.  

Christina Comben is a freelance copywriter and columnist, who is also a language lover and world traveler. Fluent in Spanish and French, Christina works with companies in the language services industry, as well as other small businesses, to improve their digital presence. 

 

 

Looking for a Speaker?

See what LeadingAge has to say

about Lori La Bey

 “Feedback from the conference planning committee and our leadership team was extremely positive. Many attendees commented that she was one of the best speakers they had heard.” 

Pat Sylvia, Director of Education & Member Development LeadingAge Washington

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A Brain Healthy Lifestyle with Dr. Paul Nussbaum

Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio Dives into

a Brain Healthy Lifestyle with

Dr. Paul Nussbaum

 Tuesday, April 17th, 2018 –

2pm EST, 1pm CST, 12pm MST, 11am PST, 7pm London

Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio Host, Lori La Bey is thrilled to have Dr. Paul Nussbaum back on the show again!  She knows Dr. Nussbaum always delivers great information using everyday language to help our listeners live a better life. Today they will talk about what is exactly is Brain Health, why it’s important with steps to apply.

Dr. Nussbaum is an international leader in Brain Health and Brain Health Lifestyle ®. He has 30 years experience in the care of adults and older persons suffering dementia, head injury, and many neuropsychiatric disorders.  He is Founder of the Brain Health Center, which provides independent medical examinations, neuropsychological assessments, and case management for those suffering neurological and neurobehavioral disorders. The Center also serves as the epicenter for Dr. Nussbaum’s Brain Health Lifestyle ®.

Join the conversation by calling in.   (323) 870-4602

Contact Information for Dr. Paul Nussbaum

                            Phone:  724-719-2833                               

 Email                                    Twitter: @brainhealthlife

Check Out Additional Resources from Alzheimer’s Speaks

 

 

Looking for a Speaker?

See what LeadingAge has to say

about Lori La Bey

 “Feedback from the conference planning committee and our leadership team was extremely positive. Many attendees commented that she was one of the best speakers they had heard.” 

Pat Sylvia, Director of Education & Member Development LeadingAge Washington

For More Testimonials

Click Below to Download the Tips

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