the first time we met
Service is important to me, so I have been volunteering my time at nursing home that cares for dementia and Alzheimer patients. As a member of Marywood’s art honors society, Zeta Omicron Kappa Pi, I volunteered to participate in activity at the nursing home for community service; the event was “wine and painting.” While we were there we served the participants wine and led them in a painting project. Each one of us worked with one of the participants of the activity. I worked with a wonderful woman, whom we will call “Grace” for confidentiality reasons. Although she has dementia, she is always extremely cheerful. We painted a flower together and she enjoyed the process very much. She cried after our activity because of how happy she was. I asked her if she would like to paint together again and she immediately replied, “Oh, yea!” This one hour activity has created our friendship. Since that day, I go to create art with Grace at least once a week for approximately 1-2 hours.
For the project, Grace said she would like to paint flowers. I brought in white canvas and I taped out the silhouette of a tree; the tape would preserve the clean white canvas. Grace, rolled up as close as possible to the table in her wheelchair, enjoyed her time by mixing paint to create the prefect blue for the sky. She took great pleasure in mixing and blending the paints to create exactly what she envisioned. It took about two hours to complete the sky.
After the sky was complete, I peeled off the tape to reveal a white tree. On the white tree, we added pink flowers. This was to add more contrast and color into the painting. At first Grace didn’t understand that certain trees, such as cherry blossoms sprout flowers. But after she saw a picture of a cherry blossom tree, she was glad she painted the flowers. She loved mixing and blending the red and white paints to create “lively flowers,” as she called them.
The painting was starting to feel complete, but Grace felt the bottom blue area was too empty. She decided to add something, and with a flare of confidence, she started to paint. She created the outline of a large flower. Feeling that the flower didn’t make sense in the composition, she asked me for suggestions of what to add to it. I gave ideas such as a landscape, more branches or more flowers. I then suggested to make cascading flowers that were falling from the tree. She liked the idea, but couldn’t quite imagine what I was describing. Grace asked me if I would create the falling flowers while she worked on her large one. In the end, Grace loved the creation. She said it went from being “simple twigs” to a “beautiful painting.”
How we’ve grown
Before this experience, I was always hesitant to work with dementia or Alzheimer patients. I was afraid that the client wouldn’t remember me from session to session. I thought that all of the progress we made from the session before would be forgotten. This was not the case: Grace’s abilities, skills, and comfortability improved over our time together. Although I still must introduce myself to Grace each time we meet, she becomes more relaxed and comfortable around me. Though having difficulty with memory, Grace was able to recognize that she had worked on the painting before and remembered distinctly creating the flowers on the branches. She also took more initiative and had more confidence in her abilities as the sessions progressed. We both we able to grow through our time together.
Tentatively, I will continue to work with Grace well into the summer and hopefully even longer. I will be glad to share our creations and progress with everyone. Let me know if you have questions about my experience by adding your comment below.