Image and Text by Rick McVicar
Acting and drama can open up a whole new world for someone coping with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia
Of course, acting from scripts requires memory, which can be a challenge for someone with dementia. As a countermeasure, improvisation is often used for drama therapy.
Christine Lehmann writes about drama therapy in “How Improvisational Techniques Help Engage Dementia Patients,” February/March 2019, brainandlife.org.
Lehman notes that improvisation emphasizes imagination over memory. Lehmann tells the story of Karen Stobbe, a professional actor who discovered the benefits of improvisation by using it first with her mother, who had Alzheimer’s. Both of Stobbe’s parents eventually died of Alzheimer’s
One time Stobbe was listening to a Beatles song with her mother, who said she had dated one of the Beatles. Instead of correcting her mother, Stobbe asked her which Beatle was it. That began the development of improvisation techniques designed by Stobbe for people with dementia.
The emphasis of Stobbe’s work is to accept what the dementia patient has to say and adding on to it rather than arguing against it. The development of her work led to the creation of workshops for senior facilities throughout the Milwaukee area, Lehmann writes.
Stobbe’s websites, in-themoment.net and beinginthemoment.org, provide plenty of resources for caregivers and family members who are dealing with the effects of dementia in a loved one.
Several universities have studied the effects of drama therapy on dementia, such as Northwestern, University of Illinois and Elmhurst College, according to Keith Whipple, in “Drama Therapy Increases Cognition, Decreases Anxiety,” found on the dementia.org website.
Researchers at both Elmhurst and Illinois found that drama therapy can produce “significant improvements in word recall, memory span, problem solving and measures of psychosocial well-being,” Whipple writes.
Meanwhile, Northwestern researchers found that drama participants “feel less depressed and isolated and more confident and capable,” Whipple adds.
Acting requires participants to pay attention to facial and bodily cues from other actors, as well as speech, including pronunciation, volume and tone of voice. Learning and using those skills can energize the brain to slow down dementia’s progression.
Adding music and movement to the mix gives a “powerhouse intervention of cognitive activation,” Whipple notes.