Journal of Gerontological Nursing

Puppetry as Communicative Tool with Convalescent Seniors

Mary Grigsby

Abstract

Puppetry as a medium of communication can provide senior convalescents pleasurable, educa- tional experiences as well as satisfying emotional release and reinforcement of self-concepts. In an effort to enable uncommunicative or unresponsive convales- cents to respond meaningfully to stimulation, a puppet named Apricot was introduced in a convalescent home near San Diego. She was a poodle, loveable and disarming.

Apricot was chosen for captivating personality, but more for her ability to disarm the most uncommunica- tive resident. Because of this quality she, a "puppet" with the assistance of the class instructor, confronted each resident directly with heretofore "unapproach- able" subjects or topics of conversation.

To offset possible group rejection of puppetry through negative comments by a few of the 35 residents, the puppets were introduced after the residents were treated to apple juice and cookies. Such comments as "Do we have to do this?" "This is childish," or "Idon't want to participate" were avoided. While the residents enjoyed eating, a favorite pastime, the instructor introduced Apricot in one-to-one conversations. Be- cause of the instructor's prior acquaintance with each resident, the puppet contact was individualized. If the one-to-one contact elicited no response, further ques- tions or "touching" Apricot's soft fur were introduced.

The puppet, because of her "humanness," learned to

adapt in even the most negative or unresponsive situations. The one-to-one method, allowing individual participation free from group censure, was repeated every month. Each class visit by Apricot called for pre- planning adult age-level topics and participation. Later, puppet friends of Apricot were introduced, and convalescents learned to be "puppeteers" with puppets who in turn communicated with Apricot.*

In the initial class session, every resident except one reacted to the puppet. Two who had not spoken even one word in three to four months responded. One smiled-a rare event for that person. Three patients unable to distinguish prior to this event between fantasy and reality bounced appropriately from one to the other. For instance, one asked if Apricot had a license so she "wouldn't be picked up by the Humane Society." Another, heretofore thought to be noncom- municative, asked if Apricot had gone on a weekend trip with the instructor and her husband. When the instructor answered no, the convalescent asked, "Why did she have to stay home?" Fifteen of the 33 seniors expressed amusement freely. At least three laughed aloud. Conversations flowed. Reminiscings resulted. Self-worth was enhanced with the instructor being alert to comments. Careful planning of later sessions heightened progress of communication.

Puppetry is vital, has a carry-over value, bears repetition, and does not become "old-hat." Its potential is unlimited and timeless. A puppet, in doing or saying things because of who it/she/he is, can achieve unexpected or here-and-now results. And the script can take unexpected twists and turns as the puppeteer responds to participants in the class sessions. Brief puppetry sessions usually best convey the purpose. Puppets can make use of the universal love of parades, secrets, silly mistakes of human beings, children's fantasies, a "laugh-in," quips or words, music, and other things.…

Puppetry as a medium of communication can provide senior convalescents pleasurable, educa- tional experiences as well as satisfying emotional release and reinforcement of self-concepts. In an effort to enable uncommunicative or unresponsive convales- cents to respond meaningfully to stimulation, a puppet named Apricot was introduced in a convalescent home near San Diego. She was a poodle, loveable and disarming.

Apricot was chosen for captivating personality, but more for her ability to disarm the most uncommunica- tive resident. Because of this quality she, a "puppet" with the assistance of the class instructor, confronted each resident directly with heretofore "unapproach- able" subjects or topics of conversation.

To offset possible group rejection of puppetry through negative comments by a few of the 35 residents, the puppets were introduced after the residents were treated to apple juice and cookies. Such comments as "Do we have to do this?" "This is childish," or "Idon't want to participate" were avoided. While the residents enjoyed eating, a favorite pastime, the instructor introduced Apricot in one-to-one conversations. Be- cause of the instructor's prior acquaintance with each resident, the puppet contact was individualized. If the one-to-one contact elicited no response, further ques- tions or "touching" Apricot's soft fur were introduced.

The puppet, because of her "humanness," learned to

adapt in even the most negative or unresponsive situations. The one-to-one method, allowing individual participation free from group censure, was repeated every month. Each class visit by Apricot called for pre- planning adult age-level topics and participation. Later, puppet friends of Apricot were introduced, and convalescents learned to be "puppeteers" with puppets who in turn communicated with Apricot.*

In the initial class session, every resident except one reacted to the puppet. Two who had not spoken even one word in three to four months responded. One smiled-a rare event for that person. Three patients unable to distinguish prior to this event between fantasy and reality bounced appropriately from one to the other. For instance, one asked if Apricot had a license so she "wouldn't be picked up by the Humane Society." Another, heretofore thought to be noncom- municative, asked if Apricot had gone on a weekend trip with the instructor and her husband. When the instructor answered no, the convalescent asked, "Why did she have to stay home?" Fifteen of the 33 seniors expressed amusement freely. At least three laughed aloud. Conversations flowed. Reminiscings resulted. Self-worth was enhanced with the instructor being alert to comments. Careful planning of later sessions heightened progress of communication.

Puppets are visual, animated, colorful, and curiosity- producing for any age. Scripts, though not created in these situations as in more formal presentations on stage, can create growth-producing climates, inform, influence, or entertain. All are viable goals for use with less communicative seniors. With careful planning as to purpose, place, time, research and subject matter, the talents, needs, and interests of group members can be fully utilized. Realism, given too much emphasis in the script, prohibits the spontaneity and creativity which can provide a framework for growth-producing experi- ence.

As indicated earlier, puppets can do things and act in ways that human beings cannot. "Unapproachable" subjects can be explored. "Human" qualities in puppets are received with delight. Intimacy, as well as eye and physical contact, can generate response from even the least communicative. Results with residents evidenced enhancement of self-concepts. Expressions such as "1 like this," "Let me try," or "I believe I can do that" were frequent.

Puppetry is vital, has a carry-over value, bears repetition, and does not become "old-hat." Its potential is unlimited and timeless. A puppet, in doing or saying things because of who it/she/he is, can achieve unexpected or here-and-now results. And the script can take unexpected twists and turns as the puppeteer responds to participants in the class sessions. Brief puppetry sessions usually best convey the purpose. Puppets can make use of the universal love of parades, secrets, silly mistakes of human beings, children's fantasies, a "laugh-in," quips or words, music, and other things.

Bibliography

  • Bumside I: Psychosocial Nursing Care of the Aged. Los Angeles, University of Southern California. Ethel Percy Andrus Geron- tology Center, Summer Institute 197-1.
  • Engler L, Fijan C: Making Puppets Come Alive, A Method of Learning and Teaching Hand Puppetry. New York, Taplinger Publishing Co. 1973.

10.3928/0098-9134-19780101-06

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