Sierra Vista Health Care Center in Loveland is now host to an art program for its residents who feel inclined to pick up a paint brush to express their feelings and thoughts. Starting at the health care center in February, the "Memories in the Making" program, which is part of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, offers those suffering from Alzheimer’s the opportunity to express themselves through painting in a way they may no longer be able to in words.
Every week, residents at the health care center are given the opportunity to sit down and paint a variety of things. There is a prop set out as a model upon which everyone bases his or her paintings – the pictures that come out of these sessions are not always what one would expect.
For one resident at Sierra Vista, when an American flag was presented as a prop, he started writing words on his piece of paper, such as "with riot," "faith," "hope," "freedom" and "charity." All of these words were written in a collage of red and blue on a white piece of paper. The man who painted this picture is a war veteran and quiet around the facility, according to Kelly Kaper, director of recreation and leisure services at the facility.
The painting is not just a way for people to express their feelings, but it also is a way for people to reminisce about the past. Mary Louise Hitchcock surprised everyone who knew her at the home. She painted when she was younger, she said.
"When ever we had some old hamburger wrappers we used to just paint them up," she said as she painted a picture of a flower.
"She really does awesome when she paints," Kaper said of Hitchcock. "We had no idea she could paint, and then she just sat down one day and started going."
There is more to the program than just making paintings – it’s about keeping residents active and helping them remember. For some residents, however, it can become another frustrating element of suffering from Alzheimer’s.
"Some of (the residents) get really frustrated because they’re at the point of their process where they know that what they’re painting is not what they want and they get frustrated and don’t paint anymore," Kaper said.
The paintings created throughout the year may also help to fund various needs in the region, such as supporting programs and services offered by the Alzheimer’s Association as well as funding research.
Each year, the different facilities that are participants in the program submit the artwork from their residents to be reviewed by a board of artists. The artists select paintings they think are appropriate and those paintings are then matted, framed and sold at an art auction. Although many paintings are produced each year, the resident’s family members have the choice of keeping the paintings. The paintings are not sold at the auction unless the family members donate them to the auction.
The proceeds from the event and the paintings sold at the event go toward helping to combat the disease by funding research and various programs in the region for those who suffer from the disease.
Each facility that is part of the "Memories in the Making" program has taken on a significant budgetary commitment to have the program at their facility. The facilities must use a specific type of paper and watercolor paints, which are not cheap, to be a part of this program.
People at the facility, such as Kaper who is in charge of recreation, have to go through training, which costs the facility money, as well. The training consists of a variety of different elements, one of which is visiting other facilities that has the program up and running and observing how it was done.
The up side to this training is that should Kaper take a different position, the new person who would have to be trained for the program would be able to get that training free of charge. In other words, the facility only has to pay for that training once, regardless of who is in the position.
"This is an awesome program that the association offers," Kaper said. "It’s so much more than the painting."
by Jason P. Smith