Sometimes the best in home care involves getting out of the home.
That is the thinking behind “Minds on Art,” a program developed by the Alzheimer’s Association of Michigan in partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).
Now in its third year, “Minds on Art” is an opportunity for those with dementia and their caregivers to replace their day-to-day stresses with a few hours of socializing and fun in one of America’s finest art museums.
One afternoon per week, DIA volunteers and staff lead dementia patients and their caregivers through a discussion of works of art on display at the DIA, followed by time for participants to create their own works of art. The six-week program is free.
“’Minds on Art” has two goals: To provide social interaction, and to give participants the opportunity to look and talk about art in a fun, visitor-centered way,” said Christine Mark. She is the DIA manager of Volunteer Programs, and the manager of Minds on Art.
“We use art to encourage social interaction and reduce isolation,” she said. “We are here to reduce isolation and increase the visitor’s chance to feel part of a community.”
As family members can attest, providing home care services to someone with dementia is often a time-consuming, stressful and thankless job. Senior care can test the patience of Job. Studies have shown that caregiving can negatively affect the health of caregivers, causing hypertension, heart problems, anxiety, depression, sleepless night, and other ailments.
“This is a chance for everyone to get out and do something that is enjoyable,” said Mark. To that end, memory loss is never discussed at “Minds on Art.”
The elderly care program is divided into two groups. The Picasso Group is for those with mid-stage dementia and meets on Mondays. The Van Gogh Group meets on Tuesdays, and is designed for those with early-stage dementia.
I signed up my mother for the Tuesday group, which attracted a total of 22 men and women. There were other child-parent pairs, married couples, and one woman who came with her mother-in-law. They were black and white. Most were baby boomers, but a few were up in age, like my 85-year-old mother.
The day began in one of the small galleries where a volunteer DIA facilitator named Mary encouraged the seated group to describe the details of two paintings by a pair of Dutch artists.
The first, from the mid-1600s, depicted 12 rowdy characters in a tavern. The two women in the painting were standing between two men who were clearly about to come to blows.
Everyone was encouraged to point out details of “Gamblers Quarreling,” and to interpret the scene. After each comment, Mary nudged them on, gently asking, “What more can we find?” Each time, she was rewarded with additional comments.
“All comments are accepted,” Marks said afterwards. “There is no right or wrong.” The main objectives: Dementia patients connecting with their surroundings and with other people.
After viewing a second painting, we trooped to an art studio for a brief tutorial on working with clay. We were then given a ball of clay to create whatever we wanted. Lots of bowls and cups were fashioned. My mother constructed a canoe. I made a cigar holder.
Later that day, my mother asked me twice within a 30-minute period how I heard about “Minds on Art.” “Through the mail,” I said each time. The need to repeat myself was a small price to pay when weighed against her reaction to the program.
“It was good,” she said. “Very good.”
We’re both looking forward to going back next Tuesday.