Imagine living with dementia in aged care, in need of a friend to share, laugh and smile with – that’s the magic of Elder Clowns!
Residents living with dementia in aged care facilities are constantly surrounded by loss in their world. This might include progressive loss of connection, of familiarity, of a sense of self and diminishing independence.
The incidence of dementia in Australia is growing exponentially with an ageing population. This means that more and more people will be touched by these significant, life-changing issues.
The Humour Foundation’s Elder Clowns Program addresses the need for providing quality, innovative, person centred approaches to dementia care.
Elder Clowns is a world first program that addresses the psychosocial needs of a resident in a unique, person centred way. Elder Clowns aim to engage, uplift and improve the quality of life of residents living with dementia.
From sharing a song from a bygone era, playfully seeking advice, or connecting over costumes and objects reminiscent of a more familiar time, Elder Clowns enhance health, dignity and happiness for our elderly. By entering their world, Elder Clowns help residents maintain positive interactions during a time in their life often characterised by immense loss for both them and their families.
By working in partnership with facility staff and residents, the entire facility benefits – residents, staff and families.
Key to the use of humour with aged care residents is respect. Elder Clowns are professionally trained performers, chosen for their sensitivity and empathy. They draw on the performance style and tradition of the Fool or European Clown – the sensitive clown. They undergo thorough training from The Humour Foundation to prepare them for the unique demands of working with people living with dementia.
Elder Clowns bring their highly skilled professional nonsense and use all the tricks of the performer’s trade to engage uniquely with each resident; music, dancing, props, stories, improvisation, characterisation and reminiscence. Clowning is an art-form that invites play and interaction and is ideal for encouraging resident involvement. The Elder Clown is able to find a door to a relationship.
The first principle of Elder Clowning is Know Me. Almost more than anything, a person living with dementia wants genuine connection with other people. The better the Elder Clown knows a resident, the better chance they have of having fun with the resident.
Elder Clowns empower residents by honouring their capabilities, seeking their help and advice. People with dementia often rediscover that they have some authority and wisdom – that they have opinions that somebody else wants to listen to, and skills that are celebrated. Instead of asking residents to step into the Clown’s world, the Clown steps into the resident’s world. The Elder Clown is accepting of people for who they are here and now, and don’t wish them to be who they used to be, or who we might wish they still were.
Elder Clowns come in as friends. They pay a ‘special visit’ to people living with dementia, in what is now their home. Their carefully put together costumes speak of a bygone era, a period associated with a more active time in the resident’s life (currently the 40’s and 50’s – eventually they’ll be wearing flares and psychodelica!). Their red noses are an invitation to play – allowing the resident to lead the way and set the pace. Their playful friendliness enables each resident to relax and interact on their own terms. This person centred approach results in real relationship building and connection – with excellent and often astounding outcomes.
Elder Clown works with Laughter Bosses during each visit – Laughter Bosses are staff members chosen from within a facility and trained by The Humour Foundation prior to the commencement of the program.
This partnership is an important part of the program. The Laughter Boss’ knowledge of the facility and the residents themselves equip the Elder Clown with useful information, helping residents get the most out of each visit.
In working directly with the Elder Clown, Laughter Bosses continue to develop their skills in play and humour therapy over the course of the program. The Elder Clown mentors the Laughter Boss so that once the program is complete, they will have the necessary skills and experience to carry on the work, so that your facility continues to benefit. It’s also great personal and professional development for staff.