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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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Re-Imagine Life with Dementia

Re-Imagine Life with Dementia

on Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio

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Karen Love is the Executive Director of the Dementia Action Alliance, a non-profit, charitable organization working to make dementia symptoms better understood and accommodated as a disability, improving support for individuals and families living with dementia, eradicating stigma and ensuring full inclusion in all matters concerning living with dementia.                               

Robert Bowles is a retired pharmacist and past President of the Georgia Pharmacy Association. In 2012, at the age of 64, he was diagnosed with Dementia with Lewy bodies. Both of Robert’s parents had dementia.

Contact Information for Dementia Action Alliance (DAA):

www.daanow.org,               info@daanow.org

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Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio – Another Dementia Friendly Initiative

Join Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio Today

Learn About Another Dementia Friendly Initiative

030315 ASR MEmory MAtters

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Live Today at 11am EST, 10am CST, 9am MST, 8am PST and 4pm London time.

Or listen later at your convenience.

Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio™ believes in giving voice to those afflicted with the cognitive impairment and their care partners while empowering them to live purpose filled lives. Our goal is to raise awareness, give hope, and share the real everyday life of living with dementia. We look forward to you joining us for great conversation, learning, and laughter as we maneuver this roller coaster called memory loss.

Edwina Hoyle Headshot (2)Today will will hear from Edwina Hoyle about a Dementia Friendly Initiative started by Memory Matters.  Memory Matters is a community-based, non-profit organization which strives to be a center of excellence for persons with Alzheimer’s and all forms of dementia and their families.  They provide daycare programs, support services and education in a compassionate and dignified manner.

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Join the conversation

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Us the Chat box or call in live at  (714) 364-4757

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Walker Methodist & MUSIC & MEMORY℠ helps Awaken Minds & Awaken Lives with the Miraculous

Walker Methodist & MUSIC &

MEMORY℠ helps Awaken Minds &

Awaken Lives with the Miraculous

Gift of Music

miracle of music w walker methodistWalker Methodist and MUSIC & MEMORY℠ seek donations to bring Music to those suffering with Alzheimer’s & Dementia

Walker Methodist (Minnesota) – Walker Methodist has teamed up with MUSIC & MEMORY℠ to bring music therapy to their senior living communities and all communities who work with MUSIC & MEMORY℠ nationwide. This program introduces a way to bring music into the lives of people, specifically those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Music therapy has been linked with slowing memory loss, increasing recognition and recollection, and overall enhancing the lifestyle of residents using the program.

5.6 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Where medications have failed, music has succeeded. You can help improve the lives of those affected by this disease and give hope, and peace, through music. It’s not just those with the disease that you will be helping. It’s the families. It’s the workers. It’s their friends. It’s your family. And for everyone who has loved someone who has forgotten who they are. If you love people, love music, or have been affected by this, we are asking for your help.

Walker Methodist has started a campaign to raise funds to support the MUSIC & MEMORY℠ program. Funds raised will go towards providing iPods, headphones, and iTunes custom music libraries to Walker Methodist residents suffering from memory issues. Eventually, Walker Methodist hopes to offer this program to every resident throughout all of their communities, and one day nationwide.

To donate to this campaign, visit: https://www.indiegogo.com/project/preview/794d59f9. Walker Methodist has set a goal of receiving $85,000 in donations for their implementation of the MUSIC & MEMORY℠ program.

About MUSIC & MEMORY℠

MUSIC & MEMORY℠ is a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of older adults through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life. Executive Director Dan Cohen founded MUSIC & MEMORY℠ with a simple idea: Someday, if he ended up in a nursing home, he wanted to be able to listen to his favorite ‘60s music.

Dan discovered that none of the 16,000 nursing homes in the U.S. used iPods for their residents. Drawing on his background in leveraging technology to benefit people who would otherwise have no access, he volunteered at a local nursing home in Greater New York, creating personalized playlists for residents. The program was a hit with residents, staff and families, and became the prototype for a bigger effort.

The MUSIC & MEMORY℠ program trains senior care professionals, as well as family caregivers, how to create and provide personalized playlists using iPods and related digital audio systems that enable those struggling with Alzheimer’s, dementia and other cognitive and physical challenges to reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.

By providing access and education, and by creating a network of MUSIC & MEMORY℠ certified communities, they aim to make this form of personalized therapeutic music a standard of care throughout the health care industry.

MUSIC & MEMORY℠ has produced a feature length documentary entitled, “Alive Inside” that showcases the effects of music therapy to improve the quality of life for those impacted by the program . The film will be shown in Minneapolis on August 15th at the Edina 4 Theatre. Get more information about the film at www.aliveinside.us.

music_and_miracle_walker_thank_youAbout Walker Methodist

Walker Methodist specializes in lifestyle, housing and healthcare services for older adults. They own, operate and manage housing communities, provide rehabilitation services, and operate leading sub-acute transitional care centers that help people recover from hospitalizations or surgeries so they can return home.

The mission at Walker Methodist is Life. And all the Living that goes with it. They believe that age should not hold people back from living their life to the fullest, and have created communities that give people freedom to enjoy activities and lifestyles that suit them best.

The addition of MUSIC & MEMORY℠ is the next step in creating an environment that fosters fulfillment and joyful living for Walker Methodist residents.

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For Resources on Dementia and Caregiving

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