A special way of communicating

Reprint by permission: Alzheimer's Association Western and Central Washington State Chapter, Newsletter
Fall 2008

Ivan and SarahAn article in the spring issue of our newsletter about the launching of our Memories in the Making® art program prompted a call from artist Ivan Neaigus of Langley,WA who shares his life with Sarah Wallace, also an artist. Sarah was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in December of 2001. Since then, Ivan has become her primary caregiver.

In a visit with Sarah, Ivan, and others from the South Whidbey community at Ivan and Sarah’s home in Langley, Patricia Hunter and Katherine Segura from the Alzheimer’s Association saw many examples of their individual artistic talents. Ivan was particularly anxious to share with us Sarah’s work since her diagnosis, a body of work aptly named “Transitions.” Ivan felt it was important for Sarah to be able to continue her art, both because it was a meaningful activity to help fill her day and as a means of self-expression. He reorganized her studio into a shared work space and set out her materials for her work. As time and Sarah’s disease has progressed, he needs to give her additional guidance by, perhaps, giving her a faint outline or geometric shape to help her get started with the artistic process.

Ivan can clearly see that Sarah’s continuing to work with her art has been beneficial to her and to him as a caregiver. He can feel that he is providing her with the opportunity to feel accomplished while continuing to do something that is familiar to her and has been so integral to her life. It also eases a bit of the burden of his caregiving time while supervising her during her creative process. As of June 2008, Sarah has completed 30 works and four of the works were shown in the Youth Connection Show in July, 2007 with an additional four being shown at the same venue this year. Ivan says, “It is my feeling that people with dementia can still find purpose and pleasure by reconnecting to their past occupations or interests.”

The Memories in the Making® program, although not designed for professional artists, serves the same important function of allowing a person with dementia to be able to express their innermost feelings through a non-verbal means. One thing that never changes for any of us, despite disease or cognitive or physical impairment, is the need to communicate and connect with other people. Art is a very effective tool for those afflicted with dementia. The Memories in the Making® program, since its inception in California in 1986, has produced some wondrous works of art with deeply affecting stories behind them.The works are not only healing for the person with dementia, but often also for their family members as well.

Since the Western and Central Washington Chapter started offering
this program in January 2008, we have trained 36 Memories in the Making®
facilitators from assisted living communities, adult day health programs
and a senior center. For more information about this program, call
Katherine Segura at (206)363-5500 or 1(800) 848-7097.

Reprint by permission: Alzheimer's Association Western and Central Washington State Chapter, Newsletter Fall 2008.

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