News  & Views

Tickles `n Tears

Rhode Island Veterans Home
Posted by: Louise Speck at 15:35, May 19 2016.

          Since I would be in Rhode Island for the Brain Injury Conference, I asked if I could visit residents at

        the veterans home in Bristol.  I spoke to the Activities Director, explaining that I would like to visit

        and share some fun moments.  She was pleased to have me come.

            On March 17, 2016 I was welcomed to the Home.  To my surprise, residents had been gathered

        in a circle to "watch a show"!  I did not expect to be performing for an actual audience of more 

        than one or two people at a time, but managed to share some interesting props with the group.

        They were appreciative!

            Next I was ushered to another area where some residents watched TV, or snoozed in their

        chairs, and some were eager to visit with me.  I used some of the things I brought, chatted with

        each, and delighted some with a small bunny puppet.  This was more what I expected to do.

        The staff got some pictures, especially of one resident who smiled at the puppet -- "That is

        really big, that he smiled!" they told me.  I was glad I went.

Workshop at MIT
Posted by: Louise Speck at 14:01, April 6 2016.

Workshop at MIT

Sunday, March 6th, was our second workshop to make MY HANDI-CAP©s for survivors of brain injury.  MIT student buddies with Braintrust helped each survivor decide on the attributes to display on foam hands which attach to each cap.

One survivor who could not stay to participate took a cap and materials including instruction sheet with her.  Another survivor was eager to make one but could not attend, so her student buddy collected her cap and materials.

Buddies helped with tracing hands and cutting them out, sometimes providing a steady hand to print traits legibly.  Others were good listeners, learning more about each situation and the consequences of living with brain injury.  Survivors could write obstacles they face on the hands in order to communicate these truths to others, or some prefer to list their strengths or blessings!

Many jokes and puns were made about ‘shaking hands’, etc..  “They really like to make these,” commented one Braintrust officer.  “We’ll do it again!”

Currently MY HANDI-CAP© is in a prototype form to show proof of concept.  A source of hand cutouts using crushable foam is being sought for the mail-order kits Braintrust will make available.  Shipped in an envelope at minimal cost, kits will provide funding of activities for Braintrust buddies and survivors. A video will be created to raise start-up funds on!





Fun Feelings
Posted by: Louise Speck at 09:09, March 3 2016.





Fun Feelings

By Louise Speck


She raises her head a bit off the tray that attaches in front of her on the day-chair. Her blue eyes peek out, flick around to see what’s going on. Fastening her gaze on me, she raises her head further as a smile spreads across her face.

“Oh!” she says in delight. “Oh! It’s so good; it’s so good! Why you’d just have to keep a…” Her expression is one of confusion. “You could just keep one in your pocket!” she improvises, thrusting her hand down her thigh as if into a pocket. “And anytime, all day, whenever you wanted you could just take it out,” as she mimes taking something out of her pocket, “and have a look!” She peers into her hand, her eyebrows rise up as if in surprise; then she collapses in giggles. (I’ll call her Mary.)

“Do you mean a mirror, Mary? A mirror in my pocket?”

“Yes, that’s it! A mirror in your pocket, and then anytime you could just see yourself…! That’s it!” she ended triumphantly, laughing and miming the action again. I was touched that she was thinking how I could benefit from my own colorful appearance, and thrilled that she was enjoying the idea so much.

Meanwhile, Another client (um, John) was watching us both from his chair, his slow smile spread across his face. “Make a killing,” he mumbled to himself. It’s what he always says but this is the first time he’s smiled as soon as I arrive. I am very pleased.

We visit and laugh and share the fun with several others, until one (say, Emily) invites me home with her for lunch, assuring me that her mother said it was okay. The wrinkles on her face jiggle as she smiles, waiting expectantly for my response. But then she gestures me closer, and with concern in her voice urges me to see her doctor because, “That thing on your face has gotten bigger!” I am stunned; she has noticed a difference in my usual make-up which is very minimal in the first place. I tried a new detail today just to see how it would look – and Emily noticed! She is worried for me. I wipe the alarming mark off with a handkerchief while I comfort her, showing her it was just make-up.


Although clinical clowning can be useful and effective in almost any situation, I love working with the low-functioning, who get few services. Especially among elders, their needs are great for respect, for distraction from their pains and confusion, and for a reason to look forward to the next day, or the next minute – needs they may no longer be able to fulfill for themselves. I am privileged to meet them as they are, without comparing that with however they used to be, and we can share some delight in each other, perhaps some insight, some mutual respect – all in the special moment of now. Doesn’t matter if they’re not great conversationalists; the treasure trove of their lives is always intriguing. I bring a few things we can talk about, laugh about, branch off from. We commiserate, celebrate and commune.

For the residents an interlude of laughter, self-expression and/or just distraction is more than just a welcome change of pace, or a change in perspective. Although their cognitive memory could be impaired, emotional or affective memory tends to last longer – they may not know or remember what made them laugh, but they remain happier for the rest of the day, for example. Daily staff report that residents are much easier to take care of, while such a program is implemented. Meeting with small groups twice or three times a week seems optimal. Clients can begin to anticipate regular meetings, which increases the affective benefit along with the lingering improved mood. Of course happier people are easier to care for.