Art therapy enriches lives of individuals with memory impairment

“Often times I could say things with color and shapes that I could not say any other way, things I have no words for.”

Georgia O’Keefe

For individuals living with dementia, Georgia O’Keefe’s words are impactful. Art therapy enriches their lives on so many levels. It provides opportunities for physical, cognitive, emotional, spiritual, and tactile stimulation.

At the Courtyard, art therapy is particularly powerful. The Courtyard is a home at The Longview Assisted Living Residence at Christian Health Care Center (CHCC) for individuals in the early to mid-stages of memory loss. Every Friday, residents are invited to Art Appreciation. Longview residents attend class bi-weekly.

“The benefits of the program are numerous,” says Rachel Yahes, ATR-BC, LCAT, Activity Director Longview and Courtyard. “Art is a universal, non-verbal language. Art therapy improves morale, increases socialization, decreases loneliness and depression, fosters relaxation, distracts from pain, and can ease behavioral disturbances. It helps residents express what they are thinking and encourages them to explore feelings in a constructive manner. It can help form a bridge or a new way of communicating with others.”

During Art Appreciation at Courtyard and Longview, seniors explore the lives of artists, their works, and their processes. Classes have covered Michelangelo, Jackson Pollack, Georgia O’Keefe, Grandma Moses, Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and Salvador Dali.

“They enjoy learning, not only about an artist, but about overall principles of art, such as color theory,” says Jan DeSee, Longview Activity Assistant and artist-in-residence.

After exploring an artist, seniors are then encouraged to experiment in his/her likeliness with various mediums, such as acrylic paint, watercolors, pastels, oil pastels, collage, paper mache, and weaving.

“They are encouraged to take the artist’s style in their own direction,” Ms. DeSee says. “The particular medium they choose coordinates with their abilities, strengths, and interests.”

Sometimes, a class will focus on an object instead of an artist. For instance, Ms. DeSee will demonstrate painting a cow, owl, or bicycle, and then encourage the seniors to replicate her work in their personal style.

“Residents love seeing Jan’s process, and we love seeing their interpretations,” Ms. Yahes says.

Seniors are often surprised – and delighted – to uncover their artist talents at this stage of life. They benefit from this sense of accomplishment.

“Some will say, ‘I’ve never painted before, and now I’m an artist at 95!’ “ Ms. Yahes says.

Resident artwork is displayed in an open walkthrough in the Courtyard, which is aptly named the Breezeway Gallery, and throughout Longview. Each year, families, friends, and the community are invited to an annual Art Exhibition. The event includes a silent auction and the sale of canvas bags, pens, mugs, note cards, and various other products featuring images of the residents’ art. All proceeds benefit the Art Appreciation program.

“The residents take such pride in displaying their artwork at this annual event,” Ms. Yahes says. “The exhibit also boosts self-esteem and provides a sense of purposefulness.”

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