Actors Fake Dementia to Help Family Caregivers

A hospital program teaching family caregivers to be more effective with help of actors faking dementia
Actor pretends to have dementia

Presenting a caregiving program out of New Hampshire’s Dartmouth-Hitchock Medical Center: trained actors pretend to have Alzheimer’s, other dementias, or Parkinson’s in order to teach family caregivers strategies do a better job. Here’s how it works: caregivers are given a scenario to act out–perhaps coaxing Mom to take her medication, get dressed or change clothes. The actor is Mom and you are a frustrated and running-out-of-ideas adult daughter, perhaps. Or, you perform brilliantly.

Either way, the actors and fellow caregivers critique your “scene” and make suggestions so that when that situation really occurs, you have more effective strategies.

Here’s the piece from my weekly AARP blog

Training medical students to do a better job by using actors to play patients is not new. But at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, actors are faking dementia and Parkinson’s  disease to help family caregivers be more effective — and that’s downright novel.

Last month, 16 caregiver spouses gathered at the hospital’s simulation center to boost their communication skills with a loved one. These husbands and wives were dealing with challenging behaviors and wanted help solving real-life issues. In the process, the group also learned what it’s like to be the one impaired.

Each participant was videotaped in a pretend scenario with an actor (made up to look the part) who refused to get dressed, say, or was exceptionally negative. After the role-playing, the actors and fellow caregivers offered feedback on the caregiver’s body language and interaction — what worked and what didn’t. “Family caregivers are often thrust into this role of providing medical care without medical training,” says Justin Montgomery, a clinical nurse and nurse practitioner at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Aging Resource Center.

One caregiver in the two-session program was Myra Ferguson, whose husband has Parkinson’s. While she has had experience with the disease — her father also had it — caregiver boot camp reinforced her skills.

Ferguson was asked to play the sister of a patient/actor with Parkinson’s who didn’t want to put on a sweater or take her medicine. “My job was to encourage my ‘sister’ and tell her she could do it,” says Ferguson.  The feedback was positive — and useful. “I saw that I could be gentle and patient,” Ferguson says. “My colleagues liked that I used humor and made jokes to turn things around.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock plans another round of caregiving sessions this spring and hopes to have more in the future. The training program is part of a federal grant through the Health Resources and Services Administration. “I was feeling really alone and lost before the boot camp, but it was like a support group for me,” says Ferguson. “It was also wonderful that I was learning to be a better caregiver.”

Photo by Charlotte Albright/Vermont Public Radio

Would this kind of program appeal to you? Thoughts, please!

celeb

Ageism, Advertising, and Being Married to a “Celeb”–Advertising Age

Have you ever seen the Dos Equis beer ads starring The Most Interesting Man in the World? If so, you know what my husband looks like. He’s a dead ringer for the actor who plays Mr. Cool. I wrote the story below, that appeared recently in AdvertisingAge, one night after yet more “fans” approached him.

I am in a bar in the West Village with my husband, daughter, and nephew. My husband David gets up to order a drink in the other room. “It’s happening again,” he tells us when he returns.

That’s all he has to say. We know the rest. At the bar, there will have been stares and whispers. Invariably, as they did that night, someone will come over to ask my husband if he’s “that guy” and want to take a picture with him. He has yet to turn down a photo opp.

At a recent meeting attended by hundreds of attorneys, my husband’s buttoned-up law firm puts up two photos side by side on the massive screen. One is of my husband and the other is that guy.

And last summer, on Nantucket, our family is listening to a band playing at a packed brewery. All of a sudden, the lead singer stops mid-song and says, “We are honored to have in the crowd with us the Most Interesting Man in the World.” People turn as he points his mic at my husband.

Dozens of times — in San Francisco, Houston, New York, Nantucket, and Chicago, in airports, elevators, bars, restaurants, on subways and the street, and last night, at a professional basketball game in Boston — David has been stopped and asked if he is The Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis beer commercials. Although he’s more than ten years his junior, a wee 63 year-old boomer, my husband looks remarkably like the actor.

And that suits David just fine. After all, The Most Interesting Man in the World is sophisticated and adventurous. He drops from helicopters into igloos and hosts rambunctious cougars (the animal, not the older women who hook up with younger guys) in his kitchen. Did I mention the beautiful women on his arm?

My husband is not a poser. He doesn’t say he is Mr. Dos Equis, and always gives his real name. He has been known, though, to toss out, “Stay thirsty, my friend” to star-struck gawkers. When pressed, he always admits he is a mere lowly lookalike.

The truth doesn’t stop him from having his favorite one-liners from the ads: “I once had an awkward moment just to see what it felt like” and “His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man’s entire body.”

The message is that if you drink Dos Equis, you, too, will be cool like the guy in the ad.

How refreshing! In a society that only seems to celebrate the young and dismisses the old, these advertisers have chosen to build a campaign around a septuagenarian with a gray beard and laugh lines–not a hottie in his 20s or 30s.

Rather than assume an older person is over the hill and no longer has what it takes, Dos Equis made its man an object of desire for women, and someone men want to emulate.

And many of his fans happen to be young.

The Benefits of Age

What makes The Most Interesting Man so appealing is his experience, knowledge and wisdom, all gained from living a long life. These positive qualities are acquired by aging, a concept that has had little value in the marketing world.

Instead, advertisers usually target a younger demographic with, say, a buff, boyish male model wearing tight jeans and no shirt.

If there is a product for older people, it is likely to involve retirement (doom and gloom, you haven’t saved enough) or erectile dysfunction (you’re old, so see, you can’t perform).

Dos Equis has chosen to show a different face of aging, someone who is sexual, fun and vital. The ads have received a grand reception from viewers; there are pages and pages on Google with Dos Equis commercial witticisms and life-size cardboard cutouts on eBay of the real McCoy.

Have we turned the corner with stereotypes of clueless older people? Is this the beginning of multi-layered depictions and a better understanding of the wide range of boomers and seniors? Is ageism dying?

A 2012 campaign for Toyota Venza showed older parents biking with their friends, getting a puppy or clubbing while their millennial age children assumed the folks were going to be early and missing out on life. That’s a start.

The creative ranks of agencies, which are typically made up of Gen Xers and Millennials, could use more boomers. No doubt they would change the script rather than play it safe.

At the very least, there are financial incentives for an advertising shift: the 50-plus group has $2.4 trillion in annual income, or 42% of all after-tax income; the 55-plus demographic controls more than three-quarters of America’s wealth; and 55-64 year-olds outspend the average consumer in almost every category. The buying power of 78 million boomers, the oldest who turn 68 next year, will likely flip the TV picture from black and white to grey.

But my husband isn’t thinking about advertising dollars or his important faux role in transforming how older people are perceived. He’s thinking it’s funny that he’s repeatedly mistaken for The Most Interesting Man in the World.

That part of the story is compelling, feel-good fiction: The fans believe they’ve had a brush with fame, the Dos Equis folks have a winner on their hands while debunking ageism, my husband gets a good chuckle, and even I make out. Not only do I have a new man in my life without having to stray, but he happens to be more interesting than I even knew!

I’ll drink to that!

 

And Your Next Career Is. . .?

It may feel interminable, but your family caregiving days will be over some day. Really! And then what? You might opt for meaningful volunteering or a paycheck. You may be able to parlay what you’ve gained when you were in your taking care mode into saleable skills. You know something about the healthcare system, being organized and multi-tasking, right?

How about being a patient navigator (a certificate course at some community colleges), a senior move manager, professional organizer or personal assistant.

Even if you’re not taking care of a parent, spouse or friend, you may want to change up your life–get involved in a new field or venture. Work for a non-profit where you can have some social impact. Part-time or full-time work. Really anything.

There are good books on the market to help steer you to various professions and the hot jobs of today and the future. My favorites are Great Jobs for Everyone 50+ by Kerry Hannon, The Encore Career Handbook by Marci Alboherand Nancy Collamer’
Second-Act Careers: 50 Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement.

Other great resources: The Community College Plus 50 Initiative from the American Association of Community Colleges, which offers courses and programs to train and retrain students age 50+ in volunteer, civic and service positions. I’m also recommending you check out what Encore.org has to offer. Some companies, like Intel and HP, offer retiring or retired employees Encore Fellowships, a stipend at a non-profit. Those often lead to long-term paid work.

There are so many options today for boomers. I’ll be attending an Encore.org conference in San Francisco that will provide more reinvention material. Stay tuned.