Caregiving for a loved one is HARD. It’s hard on the giver and on the receiver. As much as it can be rewarding, it can also be frustrating, thankless, inconvenient, demanding, and—dare I say it—ageist. 

If we’re not careful.

Perhaps you’ve seen or experienced it: the eye-rolls, the heavy sighs, the stage-whispered snide comments. The impatient “I TOLD yous,” or “You TOLD mes,” or “AGAINs?”

The thing is, just as most of us have not been trained to be caregivers for our loved ones; nor, have most of them been trained to be old. Without role models for how to age well, or positively, or gracefully, or any one of the myriad terms used to describe those adults in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond who are able to see the longevity glass as half-full, many older adults simply feel lost, alone, and anxious about getting older—and being cared for.

Caregiving improv

One antidote for this is for family caregivers to meet their loved ones where they are—and accept them as they are. In fact, researchers who’ve studied adults with dementia have discovered that applying the rules of improvisational comedy to their caregiving can help relieve the stress experienced by everyone involved. Do an internet search on “Improv and Dementia,” and you’ll find links to more than 500,000 articles on the subject—from reputable sources like the American Medical Association, the National Institutes of Health, Psychology Today—as well as this TEDMED Talk from 2015.

Improv performers are taught to meet their scene partners where they are, accept them as present themselves to be, and to move the scene forward—rather than fighting against its potential implausibility. This is otherwise known as the principle of “Yes . . . and . . .,” a concept I first learned about while reading award-winning comedian, actress, and producer Tina Fey’s memoir, BossyPants. Long story short, the improv  rule of “Yes . . . and . . .” is applicable to many aspects of our personal and professional lives—including, as it turns out, family caregiving.

For instance, even if your loved one is experiencing mild cognitive impairment (rather than full-blown dementia) and tells the same stories or asks the same questions multiple times, rather than impatiently reminding them that you’ve talked about this already, just breathe, meet them where they are—and then answer the questions as though it’s the first time you’ve heard them. 

Ditto if they’ve locked themselves out of their Instagram account for the umpteenth time, or insist something’s broken when it’s just unplugged, or complain about the brand of juice you bought them. Just breathe, accept it, and go with it. It may not make caring for them any easier on you, but it might make it less contentious.

The truth is, as much as we wish our loved ones were more independent, SO. DO. THEY. 

No shame in aging

So let’s stop with the eye-rolls, heavy sighs, snide remarks, and I-told-you’s, and focus on meeting—and accepting—our loved ones where they are. Because caregiving—and older adulthood—should not be marked by a series of ageist “Oh Nos!” Rather, it should be punctuated by the opportunities that accompany the anything-is-possible “Yes, Ands!”

#agingisliving #endageismnow #changingthenarrative #caregiving #yesand #improv

Barbara Raynor headshot

Barbara Raynor is an award-winning writer and strategic marketing and communications specialist with a particular passion for Adults 50+ and the challenges they face as they grow older. Based in Denver, she fervently believes AGING IS LIVING and frequently writes and speaks on topics related to aging and ageism.

Read her blogs for Changing the Narrative.

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