Posted by: Louise Speck at 09:09, March 3 2016.
By Louise Speck
She raises her head a bit off the tray that attaches in front of her on the day-chair. Her blue eyes peek out, flick around to see what’s going on. Fastening her gaze on me, she raises her head further as a smile spreads across her face.
“Oh!” she says in delight. “Oh! It’s so good; it’s so good! Why you’d just have to keep a…” Her expression is one of confusion. “You could just keep one in your pocket!” she improvises, thrusting her hand down her thigh as if into a pocket. “And anytime, all day, whenever you wanted you could just take it out,” as she mimes taking something out of her pocket, “and have a look!” She peers into her hand, her eyebrows rise up as if in surprise; then she collapses in giggles. (I’ll call her Mary.)
“Do you mean a mirror, Mary? A mirror in my pocket?”
“Yes, that’s it! A mirror in your pocket, and then anytime you could just see yourself…! That’s it!” she ended triumphantly, laughing and miming the action again. I was touched that she was thinking how I could benefit from my own colorful appearance, and thrilled that she was enjoying the idea so much.
Meanwhile, Another client (um, John) was watching us both from his chair, his slow smile spread across his face. “Make a killing,” he mumbled to himself. It’s what he always says but this is the first time he’s smiled as soon as I arrive. I am very pleased.
We visit and laugh and share the fun with several others, until one (say, Emily) invites me home with her for lunch, assuring me that her mother said it was okay. The wrinkles on her face jiggle as she smiles, waiting expectantly for my response. But then she gestures me closer, and with concern in her voice urges me to see her doctor because, “That thing on your face has gotten bigger!” I am stunned; she has noticed a difference in my usual make-up which is very minimal in the first place. I tried a new detail today just to see how it would look – and Emily noticed! She is worried for me. I wipe the alarming mark off with a handkerchief while I comfort her, showing her it was just make-up.
Although clinical clowning can be useful and effective in almost any situation, I love working with the low-functioning, who get few services. Especially among elders, their needs are great for respect, for distraction from their pains and confusion, and for a reason to look forward to the next day, or the next minute – needs they may no longer be able to fulfill for themselves. I am privileged to meet them as they are, without comparing that with however they used to be, and we can share some delight in each other, perhaps some insight, some mutual respect – all in the special moment of now. Doesn’t matter if they’re not great conversationalists; the treasure trove of their lives is always intriguing. I bring a few things we can talk about, laugh about, branch off from. We commiserate, celebrate and commune.
For the residents an interlude of laughter, self-expression and/or just distraction is more than just a welcome change of pace, or a change in perspective. Although their cognitive memory could be impaired, emotional or affective memory tends to last longer – they may not know or remember what made them laugh, but they remain happier for the rest of the day, for example. Daily staff report that residents are much easier to take care of, while such a program is implemented. Meeting with small groups twice or three times a week seems optimal. Clients can begin to anticipate regular meetings, which increases the affective benefit along with the lingering improved mood. Of course happier people are easier to care for.