Menu

Making Sense of Alzheimer’s is a creative space for people to understand the past, present and future of Alzheimer’s disease. It is an evolving forum, a gallery of ideas, a museum without walls.

Cognitive Comedy

By Terrence Casey

The actor stops. “Where was I going with this?” he thinks to himself.

Whether from the moment of panic or the hot wind blowing through the open window, a bead of sweat grows and rolls down his temple. He looks, wide-eyed at his peers.

Within seconds, they cheer and clap as though he’d won an Academy Award. The misstep is ignored, and the next scene begins.

There are no mistakes in Leah Lawler’s Cognitive Comedy workshop; there are only opportunities to adapt.

Cognitive Comedy, run by Lawler and the Penn Memory Center (PMC), welcomes PMC patients and their caregivers to the world of long-form improv.

“Having taken classes with professionals…I had a sense of how a normal, long-form Improv 101 class is held,” Lawler said. “And I thought I should do just exactly that but combine some of the values that I learned from each school and focus mostly on support and accepting when people make mistakes.”

Participants met regularly with Lawler in the spring of 2016 for workshops.

“You had to think on your feet, and in a way that struck a funny bone,” said Les Wolff, who added the team effort boosted his confidence.

“For people who are getting older, it’s very important not only to exercise your mind, but to be aware that you’re capable of new things by not just what you’re doing but by watching what others do,” he said.

The workshops concluded with a public performance at Christ Church Neighborhood House in June. Due to the success of the workshop and subsequent performance, Cognitive Comedy will be returning for a second season this fall. More information will be available on www.pennmemorycenter.org.

Not Alone
Video

“Not Alone” was never meant to be made public when Gardner wrote it, but a powerful response from his mother encouraged Gardner to publish a formal music video to YouTube.

Portraits of Caregivers
Video

Photographer Raymond W. Holman, Jr. captures the sometimes forgotten figures in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease dementia.

IOM Report on Cognitive Aging
Video

The IOM Report on Cognitive Aging

Art of the Mind: Faye Hall Link
Art of the Mind

Faye Hall’s mother left notes for the trespassers stealing her food and moving her possessions, forgetting that these were her own actions. The artist used the notes as inspiration and as a medium in a portrait of her mother.

Beyond the Face of Alzheimer’s
Series

“Beyond the Face of Alzheimer’s" - an intimate portrait of Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

I Am Life
Story

Richard Rubin presents "I Am Life: Humanity In Advanced Dementia"

Tangles
Story

A daughter's honest graphic memoir of her mother's descent into dementia.

Building a Better Password
Video

As people age, it can become even harder to remember the countless passwords used in daily life.

The Alzheimer Conundrum: Entanglements of Dementia and Aging
Audio

Listen to Jason Karlawish's review of Margaret Lock's book "The Alzheimer Conundrum."

Millennials Take Action: Designing to Preserve Dignity for Persons with Dementia
Story

Creative young adults design innovations aimed at improving quality of life of patients and caregivers.

Art of the Mind: Greg Dunn Link
Story

Greg Dunn spent years studying the human brain, only to spend countless additional hours trying to depict it in his art. Yet the neuroscientist-turned-artist says he is humbled by how much more complex the brain is than he could ever hope to show.

The Beginning Stages of Goodbye
Slideshow

Artist Alexandria Levin reflects on a cross-country train trip she took to help her mother, who has dementia, move into the final stages of her life.

Still We Dance: Artist Charles M. Williams
Slideshow and Video

Charles M. Williams combines his art with “the possibility of the ‘long good-bye’ that is Alzheimer’s.”

Should We Still Read ‘Still Alice’?
Video

Jason Karlawish,MD explains why 'Still Alice' is not the right story to help us understand Alzheimer’s disease.

Making Sense of Alzheimer’s … A Student’s Perspective
Video

A college student asks questions about Alzheimer’s disease to try and understand the complexity of the disease.

Hilarity for Charity Joins Fight Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Story

Hilarity for Charity joins fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Laughing with Dugald
Story

Dramatists know the value of comic relief in the tragedy of life. Perhaps one man's own sense of humor is helping him to live with Alzheimer's.

History of Alzheimer’s Research
Timeline

A walk through important dates in Alzheimer's disease research history.