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Improv class helps dementia patients overcome memory loss

A dementia-friendly improv class at the Edmonds Center Center for the Arts is held on Monday mornings for people challenged with memory loss.
Improv acting classes are helping people with dementia overcome memory loss.

It can be terrifying to get up in front of a group and say what's on your mind, with no script and no experience in public speaking. But for a group of people living with dementia it's therapeutic, and part of an effort to find new ways to treat memory loss.

“They came in tentative, they came in unsure of what they were getting themselves into,” said Rob Martin, director of improv at Taproot Theater in Seattle.

That apprehension quickly dissolves on Monday mornings at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, where a group of people is challenging the limits of memory loss, in a dementia-friendly improv acting and comedy class.

Martin tosses out an idea, and the rest of them run with it. They dance, gesture, and act out their feelings, with only a few moments to think about how they’ll express themselves.

“This is all about getting back to the root of who they are,” he said.

The class is part of a series of programs, including folk dance, film screenings, and sing-alongs, designed for people experiencing memory loss.

Reginald and Betty Evans are on their fourth class. Reginald's memory is fading a bit, and he says these activities help keep him engaged.

“Since that day one, I think it's helped (him) be more expressive,” Betty Evans said.

Instructors encourage the group to think on their toes and thrive in the moment, because yesterday, or even a few hours ago, might be kind of hazy.

“That playing off of each other, the laughter that comes out of that, all of that's good for the brain,” said Pam Nolte, a teaching artist with Taproot Theater.

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