What Causes Pains and Aches to Disappear?

by Kareen King on March 28, 2015

It’s been awhile since my last blog post because I took a month off for some personal time.  I found that allowing extra space to step away from my “normal” routine was very useful. It gave me pause to reconsider “normal.” What I needed to see was that my brain needs more breathing room to “be” rather than brainstorm. I also enjoyed quality time with my daughter Joanna who visited from Germany and was able to focus on preparations for a local art show in which my photography was showcased.

Kareen King, Founder of The Golden Experience Kareen King, Founder of The Golden Experience

In the meantime, I’d like to share with you some nuggets from the 2015 Purposeful  Living Conference I attended in Newton, Kansas a few weeks ago. It was hosted by LeadingAge Kansas and featured several speakers who specialize in Culture Change and person-directed care. I was particularly intrigued with Ellie Nocun’s session which reaffirmed my belief that the arts “can increase engagement, provide purpose, and enrich the lives of people you care for.”

Ellie, a visual artist and founder of ENSO Arts, provided further ammunition for my work as a Creative Engagement Specialist, informing us of the following: 1) No matter our cognitive ability, we can appreciate art, 2) Art makes you feel, and 3) Complex thinking can occur in dementia. She took us through some visual art exercises including an investigation into Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa portrait, inviting us to share what we saw. The question, “When you look at this picture, what do you see?” invites investigation which requires complex thinking.  More investigation occurs by adding, “Tell me more.” If the person with dementia can no longer verbalize, you can share with that person what YOU see and why. In short, we need to provide more opportunities for this kind of thinking in the world of dementia programming and creative engagement for older adults.

Though my work doesn’t focus on visual art, complex thinking occurs in other arts-related activities including group improvisational storytelling, group poetry, improvisational song parodies, and imagination exercises.  One of the most powerful testimonials occurred during a creative engagement gathering at an Assisted Living a couple weeks ago. It came from an octogenarian male who lives with some memory challenges. He stated, “I wish that I had come to this ‘hospital’ sooner because every Thursday this makes the week. And I mean that. When we listen to her, do we think of pains and aches? Do we think of problems? No we don’t. The next word out of her mouth changes it all.”

So, let’s do some complex thinking on the following question: “What ‘words’ cause aches and pains to fade and joy and happiness to increase?” Here are some thoughts:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Tell me more.
  • Tell me how you’re feeling.
  • What makes you say that? (Credit for this question goes to Ellie Nocun)
  • Tell me more.
  • Imagine with me the following . . .
  • I’m so glad to see you.
  • There’s brilliance in this space when we’re together.
  • You make/made my day.
  • I look forward to seeing you.
  • I’ll be back soon.
  • I missed you when you were/I was gone.
  • What you just said/did was amazing.
  • I love you.

Besides plunging back into creative engagement gatherings, doors are also opening up for creative engagement training. I’m scheduled to present an all-day workshop on April 22 in Wichita at the annual training meeting for Activity Directors who work for Presbyterian Manors of MidAmerica. I’m also scheduled to do a couple creative engagement sessions at the MidAmerica Institute on Aging in Evansville, IN in August, and to present an all-day workshop for the Kansas City Play Therapy Institute on September 25.

I still offer keynote concerts in addition to creative engagement trainings. I am also available to demonstrate how to lead a creative engagement gathering at an actual care community. A recent testimonial comes from Sally Bailey, Associate Professor, Kansas State University, Drama Therapy Program Director:

“Kareen King is the real deal — a committed, creative, and compassionate drama therapist who knows how to connect to older adults and lead an enjoyable, life-affirming group.  Her lessons are guaranteed to appeal to the curiosity in everyone and can be adapted to clients with any level of cognition or physical ability.  They have been honed through use with mixed ability groups of older adults, so they really work!  All you need is enthusiasm and the belief that there is creativity in everyone.”

Finally, if your brain is running on empty or is simply too busy to “storm” up new ideas, I highly (and humbly) recommend my book, “Engage! 28 Creative Enrichment Experiences for Older Adults” available by clicking: http://seniortheatre.com/product/engage-28-creative-enrichment-experiences-older-adults/


Want to know how to both provide meaningful and engaging activities for your residents while gathering information on what interests them? You are likely to provide more person-centered care when you create an environment that invites self expression. This is what I’ve discovered over the past few years during my work as a Creative Engagement Specialist with three different groups of individuals: two skilled nursing, one Assisted Living.

In January, I facilitated The Lewis Carroll Experience during one of my weekly “Kareen’s Kettle” gatherings. I prefaced our time together by asking them to fill in the blank of the following quote by children’s writer, Robert Dahl: “A little___________ (nonsense) now and then is relished by the wisest men.” Their answers, which I wrote on a dry erase board, included: love, knowledge, sugar, laughter, romance, humility, appreciation, play time, hug, rest, spunk, humor, and attention.

Isn’t this a much more organic way to assess the “activity” needs of a resident than the forced activity assessments we bombard them with shortly after they move into their new “home?” I later invited them to exercise their imaginations by asking them to invent some impossible thing they did before breakfast. And look at these answers!

  • I did cartwheels around our room.
  • I camped on Mt. Everest.
  • I went to town and got a coke.
  • I went to the animal fair
  • I rode out to sea with Puff the magic dragon.
  • I performed a heart transplant and milked a cow.
  • I turned the lights on my poinsettias.
  • I jumped up and down and rolled around on my bed.
  • I built the house I live in.
  • I walked to my mailbox in my pj’s.
  • I rode a purple horse to school.
  • I went to Paris.
  • I slew a mudcat (someone added that a mudcat is a “pussycat you cover with mud.”)

I concluded the Experience with a Lewis Carroll quote, “Everything has got a moral if you can only find it,” and asked them to come up with the moral of our time together.

“Fun!” shouted one, a lady with dementia who frequents our gatherings.

Need I say more?

If you crave additional support in experiencing this type of engagement with the older adults you serve, I recommend my book, Engage! 28 Creative  Enrichment Experiences for Older Adults which includes The Lewis Carroll Experience.  Like a cookbook, each field-tested Experience is a self explanatory recipe of playful ingredients such as improvisational storytelling and poetry, thought-provoking conversation starters, Readers Theatre, songs, and much more. If you can read, are a people person, and are willing to try anything, you can do this!  And, you rarely need to bring anything to the table except for you!

If you want even more support, I offer creative engagement training’s, including on-site modeling of an Experience, where possible. I also offer keynote concerts, including The Golden Experience and Finding Emilou.

You can purchase the book by clicking: http://www.seniortheatre.com/product/engage-28-creative-enrichment-experiences-older-adults/.

Book Cover



A Great Resource on Creative Engagement for Older Adults! (“Engage! 28 Creative Enrichment Experiences for Older Adults” by Kareen King)

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