Sunday, January 1, 2012

Helping those with dementia through comedy

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Northern Star

BYRON Bay comedian Mandy Nolan started doing stand-up gigs for people suffering dementia to entertain, but instead she accidentally created a new form of therapy.

Four years after she started working with dementia sufferers, Ms Nolan has developed a program of improvised performance, role playing and theatre sports that has been so successful veteran journalist George Negus is helping put together a documentary on it. "It is really surprising because it was something I was making up as I went along," Ms Nolan said.

"I certainly never intended to create a therapy."

Yesterday, Ms Nolan, Mr Negus and film teachers Russell Burton and Anne Chesher, from the Byron Bay School of Audio Engineering, arrived at Baptist Community Services' Maranoa aged care centre at Alstonville to film the comedian and her patients at work.

Mr Negus said he was keen to help promote the results of the program.

"When somebody said to me this could possibly help get out this message of a hugely beneficial thing for people with Alzheimer's and dementia, I said 'Why not?'," he said.

"If my involvement as a public face helps attract people's attention to this wonderful program then I'm happy to be involved."

Mr Negus said he'd been impressed by what he had seen at Alstonville.

"If you can turn something as serious as Alzheimer's and dementia into a laughing matter, which is what they've done, you're onto something," he said.

"They've turned it not into a joke, but into something you can probably feel better about it if you laugh about it. I've seen it with my own eyes."

The documentary was started by Mr Burton and Ms Chesher after they heard about Ms Nolan's results with dementia sufferers.

The work done yesterday was part of a pilot being put together in the hope of getting approval for a full version, which would air some time next year.

Meanwhile, Ms Nolan will take her Stand Up for Dementia program on the road across Australia to teach 20 new facilitators how to work with those with dementia, thanks to a $47,000 federal grant.

The grant would let Ms Nolan and her husband, Associate Professor John Stevens of Southern Cross University, develop the program further.

"That'll spread the love and the laughter," Ms Nolan said.

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