April 19, 2023 by Dean Bellefeuille

caregiver talking with senior man with dementia

It takes creative thinking, a knack for rolling with the punches, and a generous amount of lighthearted fun to offer healthy and effective dementia care. It stands to reason then that a spontaneous activity like improvisation is a great way to connect and engage with someone struggling with cognitive challenges. Not only does it allow you to pivot and embrace unexpected plot twists, but it helps you to learn more about the person in your care.

But What Does Improv Have to Do With Dementia Care?

The goal of improv in dementia care is to meet the person in their reality and to provide them with opportunities to express themselves in whatever way is natural and comfortable. It helps to build an environment where the aging adult feels like they’re being listened to, respected, and never corrected. It requires more listening than talking, and accepting any thoughts or feelings the person wants to share.

Here are a couple of improv activity ideas to try. Once you get the hang of it, the sky is the limit! Use your own creativity and knowledge of the person you’re caring for to develop ideas that will work best for you.

  • Picnic: In this activity, you’re going to imagine you’re packing a picnic basket with items that begin with each letter of the alphabet. Adjust it accordingly based on the person’s ability level. And of course, any item they mention, whether it begins with the correct letter or not, is acceptable.
  • “Yes, and…”: This is a simple but incredibly important technique to incorporate throughout all of your interactions with someone with dementia. It’s the opposite of the all-too common, “No, but…” we may be tempted to use to correct something we know to be untrue. Instead, if the senior with dementia says, “I need to bake cupcakes today for my daughter to take to school!” an appropriate response would be, “Yes, and tell me more about what’s going on at school today.” Your goal is to agree with the person and encourage them to keep the conversation going.
  • What’s in the box?: Pretend you’re holding a box (or use a real, empty box). Mimic opening the box and peeking inside. Hand the box to the senior and ask what they would choose to put into the box. You can use the “Yes, and…” prompt to encourage them to tell you more. Or, ask them to hand you back the box, and you make up what you think should go inside. Take turns passing back and forth as long as the person is engaged and interested.

The dementia care team at At Home Independent Living has plenty of innovative ideas to make each day the best it can be for those we serve. Call us at (315) 579-HOME (4663) to request a free in-home consultation to learn more.