Using therapeutic clowns in long term care homes is a fairly new innovation. According to the Canadian Association of Therapeutic Clowns the first Canadian therapeutic clown program was founded in 1986 at the Winnipeg Children’s hospital. The association suggests that this may be the first formal therapeutic clown program in the world. Elder care is not mentioned in the association’s historical section until 2001 at a hospital in Windsor, Ontario.
Although therapeutic clowning is still typically associated with pediatric facilities, elder-clowning is gaining recognition. At the Canadian Association on Gerontology (CAG) annual conference last week, lead researcher Pia Kontos presented a research project entitled Playfulness, sadness, and the imaginary: Contributions of persons with dementia to elder-clowning.
The research project explored how older dementia patients in long term care homes engaged with elder-clowns and what they may “bring to the interaction including their own ways of being, provoking and performing”. The CAG presentation showed several videos of older adults playfully engaging with therapeutic clowns. The older adults were not only fully engaged and thoroughly enjoying themselves but also took the lead and created their own dynamic antics. On the other hand, Kontos discussed the need for therapeutic clowns to recognize when clients are sad and to validate their feelings rather than trying to cheer them up.
Findings of the research project “suggest visits were most successful when the elder-clowns were responsive to the deliberate playfulness and imaginativeness of those with dementia, and validated and supported residents’ expressions of sadness”.
As many of the sessions at CAG suggested, creativity has the potential to improve the lives of older adults in so many meaningful ways.