Vaudeville performers bring joy to dementia patients

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The Brighter Side
The Brighter Side

A group of vaudeville performers is hitting the hospital and long-term care circuit to bring familiarity and fun to patients with dementia. The unique program was recently featured in the New York Times.

The Vaudeville Visits program at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ, is operated by Healthy Humor, a nonprofit that mostly focuses on sending clowns to hospitals' pediatric units.

The program taps into recent research that found interacting with clowns had helped reduce some behavioral symptoms for dementia among nursing home residents.

Entertainers dress as characters that are meant to evoke memories in patients, such as a bride, a used-car salesman or an Elvis look-alike. The performers incorporate songs, dancing, juggling, storytelling and puppetry into their performances, all with the goal of stirring up memories within the audience.

Staff at the medical center say the program has improved patients' levels of communication and cooperation.

“By their dramatic appearance, and their playful invitations, the performers are often able to access forgotten parts of an elder's past, and coax participation out of residents who normally do not engage or those who have not responded to other activities and interventions,” Healthy Humor founder Deborah Kaufmann told the Times.

Click here to learn more about the program, and to see photos of the entertainers at work.

Do you know of a brighter, lighter long-term care news item that is suitable for The Brighter Side? Email Staff Writer Emily Mongan at