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Arts & Culture
West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 3 years ago

Winter Garden Art Association holds painting class for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients

Participants enjoyed the Paint a Memory class on Nov. 21 at SoBo Gallery
by: Brittany Gaines Reporter

WINTER GARDEN For two hours, the five men became artists.

Soothing music filled the silence at SoBo Gallery while the men carefully swirled blue, yellow, brown and green paint onto a canvas. All five of them suffer from some form of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, but the painting session required no memory recall. In fact, the class had been created especially for them.

For several years, Elizabeth McKinney, board chairwoman for the Winter Garden Art Association, dreamed about creating an art class for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Having taken care of her father for the last three years, she knew firsthand just how debilitating the mental disease could be.

After discussing her idea during a Rotary Club meeting earlier this year, McKinney finally got the support necessary to turn her idea into a real class.

On Nov. 21, the Winter Garden Art Association held its first class, called Paint a Memory, at the SoBo Gallery for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

“It was all through word of mouth,” McKinney said. “We’ll start small and see how it goes.”

Several sponsors stepped up to help pay for the painting supplies, while Edith Gendron, of the Alzheimer's and Dementia Resource Center, and Jennifer Campbell, of Age Advantage Senior Care Services, provided additional support for the classes.

Without the support from her fellow Rotarians and the community, McKinney said she might never have gotten her idea off the ground.

“They made it possible,” she said.

Gendron screened each person to make sure he could handle the class, and Campbell provided one of her licensed caregivers to help the men during the class.

One of the primary benefits of the class was to provide an activity to people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia that required no memory work.

“Being out in society reduces confusion,” Gendron said about those who suffer from the diseases. “The key to keeping Alzheimer’s and dementia (patients) content is by reducing confusion.”

And because the artistic part of the brain is deep within the brain, Gendron said, it is typically the last area to feel the affects of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

During the class on Nov. 21, each man was tasked with painted a pear, but each painting looked different. Some pears were larger, some were smaller, some more yellow, others more brown.

Bur for those two hours, the men didn’t need their memories. They could simply look at the sample painting and try to imitate it - they only needed to paint.

The class wasn’t just about giving the men something to do.

It also provided the mens’ caregivers with two hours of freedom.

For McKinney, this was one of the most critical parts of creating this class. 

Looking back on her time as a caregiver, she recalled just how taxing it could become.

“Some days I just wanted an hour to just stare into a cup of coffee,” McKinney said.

The class provided the caregivers with a peace of mind knowing that their loved one would be OK while they ran errands or treated themselves. The men who attended the first class followed the directions Joan Gueran provided, and their paintings slowly evolved into pictures of pears.

“This is the stuff I love,” said Campbell, as she watched the class. “It’s a feel-good thing.”


Contact Brittany Gaines at [email protected].

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