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Creating Art with Alzheimers

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Art therapy is just one of the ways residents in The Garden engage in meaningful activities that soothe the body and soul.

Some of the residents Emily Cuff works with don’t speak. They live in a silent world with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Still, Emily knows when an activity stirs something inside them. “Even though they are non-verbal, they can express themselves. I can see it in their eyes, or when they smile or point to something,” said Emily, Life Enrichment manager of the Garden at Pine Run Health Center.

The Garden is Pine Run’s 40-bed personal care neighborhood located on the top floor of the Pine Run Health Center on Ferry Road in Doylestown Township.

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. In most people with Alzheimer’s, symptoms first appear after age 65. Estimates vary, but experts suggest that as many as 5 million Americans age 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Institute on Aging.

Emily and her staff see to the residents' emotional well-being in addition to their medical needs. Emily tailors activities to the residents' interests.

"We use a 'Paint a Portrait' resident profile that asks questions regarding the residents’ early, middle, and later life. This includes family, jobs, hobbies, music, religious preferences, food preferences, sports, work, etc. For example, we have a few residents who used to either belong to a bowling team or would bowl often, so we went bowling," said Emily.

The Portrait Program is highly individualized. The staff at The Garden create the portrait from medical history, but also with input from family and friends who know the resident’s personal preferences.

"We have personal memory boxes outside of each of their rooms with pictures and familiar objects," Emily said. "They also have an individualized box with great one-to-one visiting tools."

The Garden offers a variety of activities to keep residents engaged and focused, including "Art without Boundaries."

Recently, ceramics and visual arts instructor Kris Sinisi from The Conservatory of the Arts in Doylestown helped residents create "sun tiles" to be displayed in the gallery at Pine Run. The class was captured on video and aired on 6ABC's "Art of Aging" series.

Art of Aging

In addition, Emily often works closely with residents on individual paintings of a scene each resident chooses.

"Some of the residents say, 'I can't do that,'" said Emily. "But I tell them, 'You can do it with me.' It really helps our ladies and gentleman work toward a goal, and as a result we see their excitement and pride."

The Garden residents’ works are proudly displayed on the walls in the gallery. Families enjoy seeing their loved ones' creative talents.

Garden residents enjoy other types of therapy, as well. This includes pet therapy with regular visits by not only dogs, but a horse and two pigs. A pianist and a guitarist provide music therapy and the residents engage in sing-alongs. A belly dancing class takes place twice a month.

"We do a lot of brain games and physical activities," said Emily. "It is great to see the smiles on the residents' faces."

The Garden welcomes artistic volunteers wish to share their time and talents. Contact volunteer coordinator Elizabeth Hansen at 215-489-7117 for more information.

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