More proof that laughter is the best medicine

Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

Improvisational comedy may not be among your facility's go-to lineup of activities, and understandably so. The pressure to think up funny scenarios on the spot, in front of other people, isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea.

But the same reasons that make improv scary to some may bring benefits for older adults, including (but certainly not limited to) increasing socialization and helping prevent dementia. That's the message of this story from Next Avenue, which profiles senior-oriented improv classes across the country.

While the majority of the highlighted programs take place in the community, the benefits are universal and could easily apply to skilled nursing: Participants in the improv programs reported feeling more engaged and less isolated, with reinvigorated imaginations and a renewed sense of community.

The ensemble aspect of improv was also shown to take seniors' minds off of themselves and any illnesses or issues they were facing, if only for a little while.

These senior improv anecdotes come on the heels of research that shows activities beyond the simple computer-based brain training games are needed to keep the aging brain sharp and to stave off dementia.

Among the activities touted by researchers? Anything that encourages laughing and socializing, according to this New York Times article. Sound familiar?

And the benefits of improv aren't limited to seniors — improv training has been shown to give caregivers and healthcare staff an outlet for stress, as well as more creative ways to face their day-to-day workplace challenges.

The stage fright aspect of improv may be daunting. Take it from me — my first introduction to improv was in a middle school gifted and talented seminar, and if there's anything to be said about pre-teens it's that they don't make an exceptionally accommodating audience.

But I've tried it again a few times in the years since, and each time it's gotten a little easier. That same passage of time that's made improv easier for me works even better for older improv participants, one senior told Next Avenue, since they've “already lived through situations that twentysomethings can't imagine.”

“The teachers say we have a world of experience,” she said. “What do we have to lose?”

Loneliness, for one. Perhaps even risk of dementia, or a feeling of disconnect between staff and residents.

So follow the improv rule of thumb, and say “Yes, and … ” to the idea of introducing improv activities to your facility. After all, a little laughter can go a long way.

Follow Emily Mongan @emmongan.


Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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