Giving Back What Alzheimer’s Took

Alma Selleck, 92, paints at Arden Courts in Seminole, an Alzheimer's and dementia facility. A program there uses artwork to let patients express feelings they might not be able to voice. (Photo: John Pendygraft)

Alma Selleck, 92, paints at Arden Courts in Seminole, an Alzheimer’s and dementia facility. A program there uses artwork to let patients express feelings they might not be able to voice. (Photo: John Pendygraft)

(Note: This story originally appeared in the Tampa Bay Times)

SEMINOLE – On a recent morning, nine people sat at a table on a mission of patience and love.

They were there for family – mothers, fathers, sisters, wives and grandmothers – to learn a way to help their loved ones release locked up feelings.

The key in the lock? Art.

The program, Memories in the Making Training for Caregivers, is sponsored and taught by the Alzheimer’s Association. It is associated with Memories in the Making, which tries to teach patients to express through art what they can no longer express through words. Both programs are hosted by assisted living centers throughout the country.

Lisa Milne, regional program director of the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, led the program last week in the Arden Courts Alzheimer’s Assisted Living facility of Seminole.

She described Memories in the Making as an activity caregivers can to do at home, adding that the association encourages caregivers to attend the training program. Patients can use pencils, markers and paint “to get their feelings out on paper,” Milne said. Such routines “reduce anxiety … which then can improve behavior,” she said.

She told her audience to not be unsettled by broken, fragmented lines and incomplete use of space on paper. Milne passed around a binder full of examples of absence of details, body parts, no baseline and poor organization. Caregivers should join the patients in doing the artwork if the patient encounters difficulty.

Milne stressed the importance of the patients’ artistic freedom. “Don’t interfere ” she said. “If they want to use the marker, let them use the marker.” She discouraged the use of crayons, however, which she said can make patients feel as if they are being treated like a child. A few hands went up.

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