For five years, Evan B. Zeisel (Writer/Producer/Actor) along with Miranda Noelle Wilson (Actress) worked with Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, in the US, and Ladder to the Moon, in the UK, on a National Institutes of Health and National Institute on Aging Clinical Trial studying the effects of theatre on individuals with Alzheimer's disease. The project brought about the groundbreaking Scripted-IMPROV Drama Program. As part of the project, Evan and Miranda co-wrote (with Chris Gage) and performed four plays specifically designed for individuals living with Alzheimer's. In Scripted-IMPROV plays, two actors "lead" each performance, and the audience is made up of individuals with Alzheimer's -- from the early stages all the way through the late stages of the condition. These plays are unique because the audience members can fully act in the play with the "leading" actors in fully improvised roles that are built into the scripts. They also worked with Hearthstone and Ladder to create training materials to teach anyone --even non-actors-- to put on these fun and engaging plays. The ultimate result is more meaningful interactions with individuals with Alzheimer's.
The results of this Study*, to be published soon in scholarly journals, showed that participating in these Scripted-IMPROV plays was equal to or better than taking a drug to combat depression in the population (something prevalent with the disease). The interactions in the play brought out the playful sides of residents in the facilities where they were performed, made combative individuals interactive and participatory, and turned an often alienated population into one that feels fully accepted and welcome.
THIS is why this film was made.
How You Are To Me is a fictional, narrative short film with the overreaching goal of both bringing a new perspective to the eyes of a greater audience and to teach some of the great items that can improve the lives of those living with Alzheimer's.
Subtly interwoven within the film are interactions that show how to create better relationships with those you love living with Alzheimer's and also presents not only the hardships that can be put upon a caregiver but also highlights the amazing joys one can still have with a loved one, or any individual, living with Alzheimer's, at any stage. The phrase "I'm Still Here," which is also the title of a book by Dr. John Zeisel, founder of Hearthstone, is a phrase often associated with Alzheimer's, and for good reason. Think about that single phrase: I'm. Still. Here. Often we feel like those we love are lost behind the fog that Alzheimer's creates, but within the Scripted-IMPROV Study we, again and again, got to see the fullness of each and every participant. After one Scripted-IMPROV performance, the daughter of one of the participants came up to us. Apparently, the participant had been sad and had not really been talking the last number of weeks -- to anyone. In the show, the participant played a key role, and even created a spoken word song within the play. The daughter thanked us because she just had the first full conversation with her mother in months. This film shows us that, though Alzheimer's may try to prevent us from connecting with those who are afflicted, it will not win. As we continue to search for a cure, there is still hope in the present.
* "Active forms of positive engagement—such as appropriately communicating with others during an activity, manipulating activity materials, and gesturing in response to an activity—were much more frequent during Scripted-IMPROV programming, when compared to regularly-scheduled activities at the facilities. In addition, negative forms of engagement—such as being distracted by other things or sleeping during an activity—were much less frequent during Scripted-IMPROV programming. Together, these data suggest that persons with dementia enjoyed taking part in Scripted-IMPROV programming and were quite focused while the plays were taking place. This is a huge achievement, because persons with dementia have difficulty concentrating or tend to fall asleep during many activities, especially those that last for a full hour. In addition to these positive benefits related to engagement, Scripted-IMPROV also produced a significant increase in quality of life, when employing pleasure as an indicator of quality of life. Finally, for a subset of participants who scored in the depressed range on the GDS-SF, a significant decrease in depression to subclinical levels was observed."