A Day in the Life of an Elder Clown
Bonnie is an Elder Clown with The Humour Foundation. Bonnie visits aged-care facilities throughout Sydney, bringing joy, laughter and friendship, especially to the socially isolated or those living with dementia. Today she is visiting Lulworth House.
08:30 I arrive to help finalise the set-up for a Laughter Boss workshop. This is a training session for staff, families and volunteers on bringing play and laughter to people living with dementia. We love to share our knowledge and skills with everyone in the facility.
09:00 The workshop starts, attended by personal-care assistants, lifestyle staff, nurses, people from the kitchen and the maintenance team, as well as some regular volunteers and adult children of the residents.
The Director of Nursing always comes along and sometimes the CEO and Chair of the board do, too! It’s always a fun event. My ‘cousin’ Elder Clown Daisy — who also visits Lulworth House — and I lead everyone in games, exercises and role plays to build connection and rapport as well as develop creativity and playfulness. Laughter is a happy by-product of this process.
We describe the theory and research behind our work, including the three-year SMILE study.1
12:00 With the workshop complete, we discuss how the session went and look over the feedback. We are delighted that Jim from Maintenance said, “Every staff member would benefit from today’s training.”
12:30 I grab a quick bite to eat before the afternoon visits, where I try not to spill anything on my vintage 1950s tartan frock. As an Elder Clown, I always dress in my ‘Sunday best’, with beautifully made clothing from a time period that encourages reminiscence.
12:45 I say a big hello to the lovely people at the arrival desk in Lulworth. Elder Clowns have been coming here for over five years now. We really are part of the family.
13:00 Today I am working alongside Alana, a staff member from Lulworth. In our pre-brief — where we check in on how everyone is and prepare some ideas for engaging with the residents — I bring out my song book and we practise some songs together that residents like to hear. Alana picks up the melodies straight away.
13:30 Our visits begin.
Today is Yvonne’s birthday. We are able to sit Yvonne in her room, who engages with us using eye contact and the occasional mouth movement like she is trying to sing along with us. It’s a step in the right direction for Yvonne.
Beatrice is very agitated upon our arrival. She wants to get hold of Jonathan on the phone, and talks about her mummy and daddy as if they were still alive. Without denying her concerns, I tell her that I have something to show her. As I get something out of my bag, she suddenly notices my watch and exclaims how beautiful it is. She loves the curves and the look of it. I show her some more pieces from my bag of jewellery, which she also loves.
We then go on a wonderful imaginative journey together, planning a girls’ road trip and we revel in the idea of a beach picnic with wine and prawns.
Alana joins in, too. When we leave Beatrice, she is peaceful and no longer worried about calling Jonathan.
We have a lovely interaction with Flora. She is known to be quite difficult to build rapport with, a hard nut to crack. Last week she mentioned a few songs she liked, and I took the liberty to learn two of them to sing to her this week — Crazy and I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.
After I sing Crazy, she claps so hard and has the brightest face I have ever seen on her. She says, “Bravo bravo. That was fantastic — you have a wonderful voice!”
I think she is quite touched that I have learnt the songs for her. I ask if I can visit again soon. She says “I would like that very much.” I think we have now officially got a connection going, which is lovely.
We see several more people in their rooms before joining a group in the lounge room.
I carry a bag with me that has a Mary Poppins feel to it. You never know what is going to come out of it next. Today it is a ‘pair’ of dancing shoes: a boot and a silver stiletto. Shirley and Alexandra find my attempts at dancing in these shoes hilarious.
Shirley says, “I haven't laughed like this in years”, and “I’ve been needing a laugh like this for so long”.
The laughing in the group is infectious and brings in a number of staff and family members who pop their heads around from the lift to see what is happening. Everyone who looks can’t help but smile.
15:30 Alana and I debrief the day, write up notes, plan what we might do next week and discuss how she can apply the Laughter Boss training when I am not at the facility.
16:00 On my way home.
Evening After writing my performance report I practise some new songs for next week; ponder what ideas may help me to make an even better connection with the people I visit; and scour the internet to see what I can add to my ‘Mary Poppins’ bag. Tonight I find soft bocce!
1. The Sydney Multisite Intervention of LaughterBosses and ElderClowns, NH&MRC Grant 2009-2011, https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/3/1/e002072.long
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