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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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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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Positioning Millennnials to Offset Healthcare Staffing Crisis

Danita Bye on

Break Your Staffing Crisis –

Leverage Millennials!

Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

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

Lori La Bey, Host of Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio has a heart to heart conversation with Author and Leadership and Sales Development Expert, Danita Bye.  Given the staff shortage in healthcare, they discussed, Danita’s new book “Millennials Matter.”  Learn what Millennials want and why. Hear how to get them to pick your company over the competition.  Learn what they have to offer and why it is important to learn how to work with them as well as how to develop your Millennials into great leaders.

 

Contact Danita Bye at:

Danita@DanitaBye.com

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

Meet Lori La Bey in March

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Stephen Tweed – Conquering the Crisis

 Stephen Tweed on Conquering the Crisis:

Proven Solutions for Caregiver Recruiting and Retention

Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio

Stephen Tweed is internationally known in the health care industry.  He is an award winning professional speaker, and published author.  Stephen’s latest book is Conquering the Crisis: Proven Solutions for Caregiver Recruiting and Retention. This work is focused on the solving the crisis of a shortage of front line caregivers in health care, as there are simply not enough people to care for an aging population.

Contact Stephen Tweed Below:

www.leadinghomecare.com

www.homecareCEO.com

 

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Dementia: Navigating Later Life

Barbara Kirby On Navigating Later Life 

Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio

Thursday, January 25th, 2018, Lori La Bey, Host of Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio will interview Barbara Kirby who brings with her 25 years of experience in elder care and the study of aging. Through 15 years as a caregiver for her mom and dad, Barb was shocked to see how poorly seniors were treated. She was so impassioned that she left her lifelong investment career to start, “Seniors Advocate” which assists people by being a later life planner, navigator and advocate. Her primary goal is to educate people, so they don’t become vulnerable to the mistreatment many seniors unwittingly experience today.

Contact Information for Barb Kirby

Email: barbkirby1@gmail.com

Phone: 604-767-4994

Website: www.seniorsadvocate.ca

 

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Brain Rules for Aging Well

Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio

Dr John Medina, Author of

Brain Rules for Aging Well

Thursday, January 18th, 2018  2pm EST, 1pm CST, 12pm MST, 11am PST

and 7pm London

Lori La Bey founder and Host of Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio interviews Dr John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Aging Well,”? and other books in his series on brain health.  John is a developmental Molecular Biologist, who has had a lifelong fascination with how the mind reacts to and organizes information. He is a New York Times bestseller.  Come and join the conversation!

Contact Dr. John Medina and Find His Books at:

www.brainrules.net

 

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Deadline March 2nd, 2018

Whether you are simply fascinated by the wonders of the brain or have a personal story to tell about you or a loved one living with brain disease, we want to hear from you! Your story could inspire others and help raise awareness of the need for more funding for research into cures. Submit a video to the 2018 Neuro Film Festival by March 2.

   SUBMIT TODAY

Four Categories…Four Chances to Win!

One Grand Prize winning video from each of the following categories will receive $1,000:

1.            “Why I think Neuroscience Is… Cool”—Tell us why the brain is fascinating (for students ages 13-17 only)

2.            “Why I think Neuroscience Is… Rewarding”—Tell us how discovery opens doors (for college students, medical school students, neurology residents)

3.            “Why I think Neuroscience Is… Essential”—Tell us why research is key (for families, patients, neurologists)

4.            “Why I think Neuroscience Is… Critical”—Tell us why advocacy makes an impact (for advocates, neurologists, neurology professionals, government, patient groups, families)

Visit Neurofilmfestival.com to learn more about the contest, get inspiration for topics within each category, and submit your entry today!

 

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Early Onset Alzheimer’s- the Value of Knowing

Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio

with Joy Loverde on

The Value of Knowing…

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018  2pm EST, 1pm CST, 12pm MST, 11am PST and 7pm London

 

Host of Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio, Lori La Bey,  will interview Author and Consultant Joy Loverde.  Joy’s latest book, “Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old,” is filled with great nuggets of information.  the ladies will be diving into chapter 14 which addresses the value of knowing if you have Early Onset Alzheimer’s.  Come and join the conversation.

You can reach Joy Loverde at:

Website – www.elderindustry.com               Go to Amazon to purchase the book:  Who Will Take Care of Me When I’m Old?  

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Neurologist – Dr. Daniel Potts on Dementia and Compassion

Happy Holidays from

Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio

Join Host Lori La Bey

Neurologist – Dr. Daniel Potts on Dementia and Compassion

Tuesday, December 26th at 2pm EST, 1pm CST,12pm MST,11am PST and 7pm London

 

 

 

I can’t put into words how humbled and honored I am to be named one of fourteen people, picked by Oprah and her team as a 2018, “Health Hero.” Being mentioned twice in one year in the “O” magazine is just down right amazing.

Click here for the Article.

We are honored by your response to our offering of the Dementia Friendly Cruise.

There will be much to share in the near future!

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