Improv for All-Timers and at All-Times


Even before I realized Babci’s memories were leaving her for far off lands, I heard an incredible segment on an episode of This American Life (532: Magic Words) over the summer.

It was a story of a couple living with their mother, who was living with Alzheimer’s.

The story was wrought with challenge – it’s tough to see someone you love, the person who raised you, who you always looked up to, who always took care of you, not only no longer able to take care of themselves, but to forget you.

You who now are taking care of them.

When you’ve shared so many memories over the years – people and places, food and fun, ups and downs, and many more – how could they forget? They meant so much to both of you.

And sometimes the strangest things come out of their mouths. Something crazy if not just plain wrong!

Who wants to hear all the time how they can’t remember anything? How wrong they are? This isn’t the way to do that! Why can’t you …?

Though it must only get harder when the person who you are working so hard to be so patient with shows no recollection of, nor patience with, you.

But what if you took whatever they had to say at face value?

What if you went with the flow and joined them where they were, with what they were doing? (How ’bout those monkeys!)

What if you believed what they were telling you, as much as they believed it themselves?

Sometimes we budget the least amount of patience to those closest to us, especially when we assume they should know something or do something or [______] something.

But it’s not just with our loved ones with Alzheimer’s that we do this with. Nor just our loved ones.

It’s easy to do this with the many we people know and many others we don’t.

Improv is about responding in the moment, not reacting.

It’s about going with the flow. It’s about laughing, a lot. It’s about not being afraid to make a mistake and not pointing a finger at others when they falter.

In fact, mistakes don’t exist. It’s all just a matter of circumstance.

What was just said? What was just done? How will we respond? What will we do next? How does the scene end up in the end?

We could just as easily put a negative bend on the above questions as we could a positive one.

But the spirit of improv is about opening our mind to possibilities. Testing out unknown waters. Believing you (and those with you) can. And always giving it another go.

What if we embraced improv in our daily lives? How might your life and the lives of others be enhanced with a slightly different mindset and approach?

What might it take for you to start to share the improv love at home*?


Karen Stobbe (Karen from the 20 minute episode, which is definitely worth a listen) offers workshops on how to use the tools of improv with people who have dementia. She also has this interesting .pdf on the Parallels of Alzheimer’s and Improvisation.

*Karen also introduced me to this quote via her website in the moment:

“It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.” – Mother Teresa

Today I Google’d “Alzheimer’s” and found the photo you see above.

The article is actually from and encourages us to take action on Alzheimer’s. It even links to the 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s page that I saw on a commercial last night.



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