Caregiving is a crucial aspect of elder care, with millions of caregivers worldwide providing essential support to aging individuals. According to the AARP, there are approximately 41 million caregivers in the United States alone, with the vast majority (83%) providing care to a family member or loved one. The demands of caregiving can be significant, with many caregivers reporting high levels of stress, burnout, and health problems.
Catherine Braxton, founder of Improv4Caregivers, plays a crucial role in equipping caregivers with essential communication tools and techniques to improve interactions with aging individuals, foster engagement and connection, and enhance the quality of life for both caregivers and their patients.
With over 25 years of experience, Catherine is a passionate Relationship Centered Communication Specialist and Registered Cognitive Behavioral Therapist. She is the Owner, Educator, and Content Creator of Improv4Caregivers, a company born from her passion for the aging industry. Catherine’s journey began as an activity assistant in college, and since then, she has held a range of positions in the field. Her expertise includes managing memory care units, directing activity programs, providing case management and service coordination, quality control, and facilitating support groups.
Catherine’s journey to creating Improv4Caregivers began during her Master’s thesis program, where she worked to make education more accessible for families to enhance their experience during visits. With a focus on communication, she provided sensitivity training and education to youth, often left out of the caregiving process. After signing up her son for an improv class, she was inspired by the concept’s ability to connect people who may not understand each other. She saw it as the key to communicating with individuals who have dementia.
Improv4Caregivers offers communication tools to help caregivers, both personal and professional, create moments of joy. Catherine and her team provide individual consultation for families, community-wide training for organizations, and long-term care training and orientations for enhanced communication techniques.
They are a partner of the National Association of Activity Professionals (NAAP) and have created a CMS-approved 6-hour dementia-specific training that emphasizes the importance of building connections with individuals living with dementia. Improv4Caregivers provides classes, content, blogs, and certifications, including the Relationship Centered Communication Specialist designation, to empower caregivers to enhance their interactions with aging individuals and promote a better quality of life for all.
Catherine believes that the rules of improv can be applied to caregiving to enhance communication and connection. Improv is based on a social work concept emphasizing connection, making it an ideal platform for working with individuals with dementia. Catherine’s improv techniques focus on positive or neutral linguistics, which avoids clinical jargon that can be confusing for caregivers. She teaches these techniques to families, allowing for continuity of care, enhanced partnerships among caregivers, and strengthening relationships.
Catherine’s commentary, “The Rules of Engagement,” was published in the Peer Reviewed Seniors Housing & Care Journal. She believes that engagement is what caregivers ultimately strive for when caring for patients. The commentary focuses on the importance of creating joy and engagement through connection and trusting relationships, instead of relying solely on technology. Catherine urges caregivers to remember that they are people taking care of people and that technology cannot replace meaningful caregiving experiences. By focusing on connection, caregivers can help individuals that have dementia write the last chapter of their life in a positive and joyful manner.
As a co-author of “Start with Yes,” Catherine encourages caregivers to join individuals with dementia in their reality by saying “Yes, And.” This rule of improv means finding a way to agree with the individual and adding to their comments, which helps build trust and engagement. She also emphasizes the importance of relinquishing one’s agenda to create successful scenes with individuals with dementia, which involves setting aside preconceived ideas and helping the partner look and feel good. These improv rules are easy for families to incorporate and understand, providing more opportunities for success and engagement during visits.
She advises those interested in working in the aging industry to find their passion and embrace the opportunities for personal growth and improvement through certifications such as the Relationship Centered Communication Specialist course.
Her passion and expertise in the aging industry, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and the neurobiology of sleep make her a leader in the field, creating a positive impact on caregivers and their patients.
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