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Improv and Caregiving

face of an elderly lady

As we grow, we become aware of our elder friends passing through the time in their life when they become a caregiver for their parents. Yet, it isn’t until you are in that place that you start to understand what it means. It becomes a very confusing time for us to comprehend or know how to assist and cope with our aging parents and the health situations they face.

It seems my business partner and I all arrived at this place simultaneously. While Dave Gau was helping his mom to cope with her dementia, I was doing the same for my stepfather. Over the course of time, we observed that our improv skills led the way for us.

As a parent ages, a child's role often shifts to the caregiver. It can feel like the roles as parent and child have switched. And as that occurs, it becomes difficult to separate our emotional feelings from our new responsibilities as the caregiver. We may not address it or even realize it, but deep within we miss our original role as the child.

Being a caregiver isn’t easy, but it can be the most rewarding lesson of love you will remember sharing with your parent. Would you like to learn some improv tips for assisting the caregiver?

Glad you asked. Let’s start with our definition of improvisation. Improv is a highly refined system of observing, connecting, and responding. And let me talk from my personal point of view.

We have an urge to correct our parents when they can’t find their words or forget. My mom would correct my stepfather “Bill” and this would frustrate and confuse him more. Other times he would not want to do something that was expected, such as get ready to go to the doctor and become argumentative. As an improviser, “observe, connect, respond” is embedded in my core. I didn’t make his mistakes an issue or become upset, we just moved on. If he refused to get ready for the doctor, I would connect with him, face to face to allow him to express his refusal, then with a gentle touch explain why it was necessary, and give him time to digest and process that thought.

The second improv principle I found useful was “give your partner what they need to succeed”. Why fight it, go with it. One day when Bill was in the nursing facility, I observed two aides trying to put a sweatshirt on him. They both held out the arms for him to place his hands through, yet Bill stiffened up, and they had to grab his hands and pull them through the shirt. Our vision deteriorates with age and we go through stages of loss of peripheral to binocular to monocular vision. Bill couldn’t see both sleeves as the aides held the shirt. Thus he became confused, scared, and closed off. Give your partner what they need to succeed in taking the time to do the task so they can work with you. We take time to dress our babies one arm at a time, putting our hand through the arm of the sleeve and gently guiding the little hand through. As I thought about it from that point of view, I began doing the same thing, and dressing Bill was a snap.

When Dave and I realized how improv was helping us care for our parents we shared this information with another CSz Richmond player Pablo Bedoya, a doctor at VCU Medical Center. With his assistance, we received a grant to conduct research program for using improv comedy to improve communication in dementia caregiving.

For more information about this research or other outreach activities of ComedySportz® Richmond please contact us via the form on the CSz Good Stuff Page or email

From the CSz Richmond Blog Elves to our loyal readers: May this Yule B-log find you sharing time with loved ones, caring and giving the warmth of fellowship to each other. From our Improv Community: However you celebrate this time, and whomever you chose to celebrate it with, may it bring you peace and the love of your community.

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