Tag Archives: Art

An Art Lesson in Paris

An integral part of experiencing Paris is looking at art. Chantal Debreu, a psychotherapist, serves as a volunteer and board member of the city’s Action Culturelle Alzheimer. To properly discuss the fascinating programs Chantal and her colleagues designed in collaboration with Musée d’Orsay, Musée de Cluny, and the Château de Versailles, we met at a sidewalk café over croissants and coffee.  imgres

(Note to fellow writers: It is extremely difficult to enjoy a croissant while typing on an iPad. The flakes flutter festively about the keyboard.)

 

 

Art Speaks a Universal Language

“Art is a universal language and looking at art is a wonderful way to access the creative capacities of people living with dementia,” Chantal says. “Looking at and discussing art can also at least temporarily reduce issues such as agitation, depression, apathy, and aggression.”

To facilitate such cultural connections, Chantal and Cindy Barotte, founder of Action Culturelle Alzheimer, created a three-day training program for volunteers, complete with information about dementia, case studies, and role play. Cindy developed a structure for finding meaning in works of art for volunteers and museum educators. The program connects each beneficiary with a trained volunteer who is there for five gallery visits. During the art experience, the caregiver has much-needed respite time.

“The volunteer helps people living with dementia explore their own capacities by supporting them,” Chantal says.

IMG_2035The structure encourages engagement and creative expression. To view the work of art, participants sit in a semi-circle, so they can see and hear each other. The semi-circle creates a sense of group belonging and also blocks out the public. The volunteers sit in back of their person. If the person with dementia feels shy about speaking out, they may turn and share with their volunteer. The volunteer reports the insight to the educator, who shares it with the group.

Art Breaks Ice and Inspires Ideas

The program inspires conversation and ideas. People living with dementia tend to notice the details, but they may not attach a meaning to them. Little by little, the facilitators talk through the elements of the painting, helping them associate and build meaning, so they understand the story of the painting. When they start to make associations, they talk about their experiences. They come away feeling like they are someone; they have ideas and memories to share.

“At the Centre Pompidou, we discussed Bleu, a giant Miro canvas,” says Chantal. “We talked about it for 15 minutes. Everyone was involved and actively engaged in investigating, wondering, and sharing.”

Art Travels with You

Want to bring the Paris art experience home? Here are some tips: imgres-1

  • Select a work of art to comfortably view together, either on-line, from a book, or at a local gallery.
  • As you look, ask open-ended questions, such as, “Why is that woman staring?”
  • Encourage conversation by continuing to ask engaging questions. If someone notices  a bicycle, make an affirming comment about the bicycle and ask “What else do you see?”

“It’s not about telling,” Chantal says. “It’s about asking.”

For more on the international scene, dive into my book, Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together.  Pre-order your signed copy.

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Orchestrating a Musical Conversation

imagesWhen Ron’s dad was living in a memory care unit, Ron and I talked with the residents and their families, learning about their favorite songs. We orchestrated a sing-along and had fun working with everyone and putting together a scrapbook of each resident’s special tunes. The combination of music and conversation created a sense of community for us all. Julian West, who we met on a recent trip to London, is creating community through engaging people in music and dance. We really love the way he weaves the two art forms  together and wanted to share his easy and adaptable ideas with you.

Julian West had no idea what would happen at the care facility, but he trusted it would be something wonderful. An accomplished oboist and a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, Julian assembled a violist, a composer, a dancer, and an artist to share energy and their art with people who are living with dementia.

“This was an experiment to see what could happen,” Julian says. “We worked completely improvisationally.”

percussionOnce a week, for eight weeks, the troupe came to the residential care home and created a living arts experience with residents and staff. They began by inviting everyone to choose a percussion instrument, such as rain sticks, bells, shakers, tambourine, etc.

“We had a musical conversation,” Julian says. “One person made a sound and another answered. We also chatted a lot. People commented on the music or expressed an emotion or impression.”

The musicians added their instruments and the staff and residents joined in, through percussion and voice.  They made fascinating sounds, like an improv jazz singer might do. The dancer twirled around in the center of their circle. Her free movements gave the group a focal point and inspired others to explore various movements.

“I let go of preconceptions and tried to create an open atmosphere,” Julian says.

The artists’ openness helped the “conversation” grow and blossom.

imgresOne woman who was living with dementia held up a tambourine, keeping it still and gazing at it as though it were a beautiful and revered object.

Julian’s first thought was, “She doesn’t know it’s a musical instrument”.

“I let that thought go,” he says. “I saw how expressive she was. Her interaction with the tambourine was beautiful and profound and she allowed us all to see the instrument differently.”

Even if you don’t have your own musicians and dancers at home, you can still create this supportive and creative atmosphere.

  • Share a few percussion instruments, put on some music you both like, and make some joyful noises. Experiment with bee-bop syllables to add a sense of freedom.
  • After the song, talk about the experience, what you liked, what you felt, and any other impressions that came up.
  • Consider inviting a “guest dancer,” someone who likes to move to music, or a child of a friend who’s taking dancing lessons. Go ahead and add your own moves.
  • Invite friends and family to join you. You’ll have something to laugh, and sing, and talk about.

For more information about Julian’s work, visit: www.julianwest.co.uk

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. 

COMING SOON: Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together 

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Tips from a Parisian Artist

IMG_2060There’s something magical about visiting an artist in his studio. Especially if that studio is in Paris.  We were honored to meet Patrick Laurin, artist and art therapist, on a recent trip to France.

In the beginning, Patrick Laurin’s work with people who were living with dementia went slowly. When he first visited the care home and invited people to join him for painting, he heard various reasons the idea wouldn’t work.                                                                                                                                     “I can’t hear you.”  “I can’t see you.”  “I can’t move my arm.”

IMG_2118Patrick, who had quit working as researcher in the pharmaceutical industry so he could create deeper connections with clients, understood the importance of building relationships. Gradually, he got to know the people who lived in the community. He wanted to tailor an artistic experience specific to each person’s abilities and needs.

Over time, the people who couldn’t see, hear, or move were all happily involved in painting.

One woman seemed to blossom when holding the brush and stroking on the paint. Even though she couldn’t later remember to say, “I’ve been painting,” she enjoyed the experience.

One day, Patrick was on another floor in the care community when he encountered this woman and her daughter.

Her daughter said to Patrick,” You are the painter.”

Patrick was thrilled her mother had been able to mention the art therapy sessions. But before he could respond, the mother said, “No, the painter is me.”

“Inside, she was seeing herself as an artist,” Patrick says. “The painting strengthened her identity.”

IMG_2084Patrick has learned to approach each person with flexibility. Sometimes Patrick jump starts his artists with a squiggle of color on the page. Then he steps back to let them respond with their own squiggle. If they’re stymied, he offers a choice of two colors.

He also uses collage techniques to inspire his artists. He selects three separate pictures, each with one recognizable thing, such as a house, tree, or dog. He shows the photos to the artist, and asks, “Which one of these attracts you?” When the artist chooses a photo, Patrick then asks, “Where would you like to put this on the paper?”  He and the artist apply paste to the paper.

“We don’t turn over the picture and apply paste, because the image then disappears and that can be confusing,” he says.

When the picture is glued to the paper, Patrick discusses a color that’s already in the picture.

“You could take the blue in the sky and extend it,” he might suggest.  This suggestion often inspires the artists to start painting.  If they get stuck, Patrick says,  “What might look good near the house?” In this way, the painting expands.

For one woman, painting began as a series of colors and grew into a personal story.

She pasted a house and began expanding the lawn. Then she drew a bridge and weeks later, she added in a dog. At first, she was painting “a house, a bridge and a dog.” As the picture took shape, she said, “This is my house and my dog and this is the bridge we had to cross to get to the house.” The process of painting had loosened memories of her childhood home.

IMG_2090“When I share a piece of art by one of my students, I also share the story behind it,” Patrick says. “The act of creation is more important than the results.”

Tips:

Pick something that is easy for you, the care partner.

Put a point of color on the pages, then stand back. Offer support but don’t paint.

Enjoy the process and don’t get stuck on the results.

 

Thanks to Berna Huebner, founder of the Hilgos Foundation and co-producer of the documentary, “I Remember Better When I Paint,” for suggesting we meet  with Patrick.

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. 

COMING SOON: Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together 

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Click for Poetry and Help Hundreds

My friend Molly has an exciting opportunity to expand the creative work she is doing with those who are living with dementia. She’s in the running for a small business grant from FedEx. Read this blog to learn more about the  meaningful projects she is doing. If you are as inspired as I am, simply click on the link and vote for Molly and Mind’s Eye Poetry: http://bit.ly/1TgpDuJ

Vote now so that she can continue her mission to engage, creatively stimulate, and empower people who are living with dementia.
***
Molly Middleton Meyer pulls a red silk scarf out of her rolling suitcase and asks the group of 15, “What does this scarf have to do with springtime?”

A brief silence unfolds while people consider.

“I used to wrap a scarf around my head in the convertible,” one woman says.scarf

The woman sitting next to her smiles. “Scarves blow in the wind,” she says.

Molly mimics the scarf wafting in a breeze.

“If the scarf was music, what kind of music would it be?” Molly asks.

“Jazz,” a man says.

“Rock and roll.”

“Classical.”

Molly, who has an MFA and is the creator of Mind’s Eye Poetry in Dallas, Texas, reaches into her suitcase and brings out a small watering can. She continues the relaxed pacing, asking for impressions, invoking imagination, creating a sense of comfort and connection for this group of people who live in a memory care facility.

After 20 minutes of creative play, Molly takes out a slim book and says, “Here’s a poem about spring that I really like. See what you think.”

She reads the short, rhyming verse and asks for reactions. She then invites the group to contribute to a writing project.

“There are no wrong answers,” she assures them. “I’ll ask something and you’ll say the first thing that comes into your mind. For example, when I say ‘springtime’ what flowers do you think of? ”

tulips“Daffodil, tulip, roses…” the group offers.

Molly writes down each flower and reads it back to the group.

“We have our first line of poetry,” she tells them.

“Imagine where the flowers are, in a vase, in the garden?”

“What colors are they? What time of day is it?”

Every question invites imagination and word-by-word, the poem emerges. After they’ve created three short poems, Molly shows them a piece of art and asks, “What do you see?” She captures their observations and uses their words to create a poem.

Here’s an example of a poem segment created after looking at Oriental Poppies, Georgia O’Keefe’s painting of two large orange poppies.

I see two evening gowns
on a diagonal, flowing.

I see a Scottie dog
prancing in a field of orange.

blackbirdI see summertime in Santa Fe.
I see a black bird soaring into sunset.

 

“When I read back their words and say, ‘You all just wrote this,’ it’s very empowering,” Molly says.

For those at home who want to have a session of creative imagining, Molly has these suggestions:

Gather a few interesting objects, such as a recipe book, a nature photo, a pot holder, and one at a time, show them to your partner and ask, “Mom, what do you think about when you see this recipe book?” Give her plenty of time to respond and jot down her answers. If she asks, “Why are you writing?” tell her, “I value what you have to say.”

Soon, you’ll have a collection of words and phrases. You can take a photo of the object along with the poem it inspired and put them together in a book.  #recipe book

 

Molly Middleton Meyer is the founder of Dallas-based, Mind’s Eye Poetry. To date, she has facilitated over 600 poems written by people with dementia. Mind’s Eye Poetry has been featured in U.S. News and World Report, the Huffington Post, the Dallas Morning NewsAffect MagazineGrowing Bolder Magazine, and on NPR. When Middleton Meyer is not facilitating poetry, she writes her own. Her first book of poetry, Echo of Bones was published in 2014.  For more information, contact Molly Middleton Meyer, M.F.A. Poetry Facilitator/Speaker at www.mindseyepoetry.com

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

COMING SOON: CONNECTING IN THE LAND OF DEMENTIA: CREATIVE ACTIVITIES TO EXPLORE TOGETHER

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Dementia Café: Connecting through Donuts and Baseball

 

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I’ve always enjoyed gatherings of creative people, so I was excited when I learned that Mandy Shoemaker was orchestrating a Dementia Café in our area. The premise is simple and fun: a group of people living with dementia, their care partners, and friends get together in a public space for a facilitated time of conversation, sharing, and creativity.

Mandy’s café took place in Lamar’s, a locally esteemed donut shop with a quiet atmosphere and a spacious seating area.  Eight of us gathered around a table and Mandy opened the conversation by showing us a black and white photo of a baseball player laying on a field, next to a fence, apparently knocked out.

“Babe Ruth,” she told us. “He was running backwards to catch a ball and crashed into the barrier.”

We all nodded in sympathy, then began sharing baseball stories. Charlie had played in his youth and he and his wife Barb were ardent Royals fans. Courtney had played softball in high school. Fran, who grew up in the 1930’s in rural Mississippi, never had a chance to play sports but she liked hearing about the game.

“Did you ever listen to baseball on the radio?” Mandy asked her.

“In those days, not everyone had everything,” Fran said. “I don’t think we even had a radio.”

Barb remembered being on her grandparent’s farm, huddled around the radio, listening to the Yankee’s games.

“Have you ever heard the poem Casey at the Bat?” Mandy asked.

“I memorized it at school,” Charlie said.

119AC655-C2E7-4B6C-A043-39E96D861200We took turns reading the dramatic poem, discussing such vivid terms as “when the dust had lifted” and  “Casey lightly doffed his hat,” and one ball player was a “lulu” while another was “a cake.” The tension built and we chanted the last verse together. (Seek out this poem if you want to know what happened in Mudville that day: www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/po_case.shtml )

We then created a group poem, each contributing an answer to “Baseball is…”

I left the café feeling exhilarated and connected. Baseball was a catalyst for a great conversation that included life in the 1930s, family origins, Memphis, Elvis, baseball cards, Abbott and Costello, poetry, women and sports, fathers, hard work, radio programs, and more.

“It is our goal to create a more dementia-friendly community,” Mandy says. “Part of that is creating safe places for people with dementia to come and be a part of a group, with no expectations.  The café invites people to just get out, be creative, and have fun.”

The KC Memory Café will meet on the second Tuesday of each month. To keep up to date, follow our facebook page at www.facebook.com/KCMemoryCafe

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Create Your Own Cafe

You can also create your own café for two or more. Here are a few tips:

Select a public meeting place that serves refreshments and is reasonably quiet.

Let go of expectations and create a supportive atmosphere. You are here to express yourselves and connect.

Pick a broad topic that you are both interested in. Examples include seasons, sports, nature, games.

Start with a visual stimulation, such as a photo. Ask open-ended questions that invite imagination, such as “What do you see in this picture?” or “What do you think is going on?”

Allow the conversation to flow. The topic is a mere catalyst for ideas and communication.

Print out a familiar poem to read together. Enjoy the drama of reading aloud and invite comments on the poem.

For more about starting a café, visit

http://www.alzheimerscafe.com/public.html.alzheimersatoz.com/Welcome.html

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey. 

COMING SOON: CONNECTING IN THE LAND OF DEMENTIA: CREATIVE ACTIVITIES TO EXPLORE TOGETHER

 

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