Memories in the Making: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.

Contributed by Pam Levin and Beverly Engel

It may look like a typical art class but it’s not. If you looked in on a Memories in the Making class you’d be surprised to find the people using the neatly placed boxes of watercolor paints, brushes, paper and drawing pencils are individuals with dementia, not life-long artisans. Dispelling the common misconception that individuals with Alzheimer’s disease are lost forever, Memories in the Making (MIM) powerfully reveals that artistic and creative talents can last into the later stages of the disease.

Memories in the Making originated out of the Orange County (California) Alzheimer’s Association Chapter back in 1988. Just a few years ago, the Central & North Florida Chapter introduced this program into our local market offering a vehicle for persons with memory impairment, living in and around the Orlando area, to be able to communicate through the creation of a painting.

Watercolor painting is the medium used to get the person with Alzheimer’s or other related disorders to participate in self-expression through art. MIM is different from traditional arts and crafts programs designed for older adults; its purpose is NOT to teach art but to give the person with the disease a “glimpse into what they are still trying to communicate.” It presumes people with progressive memory loss still have something to say even if their verbal expression is garbled or non-existent.

In the early stages of progressive dementia, a person may be acutely aware that he or she is making mistakes and forgetting important information. One’s sense of embarrassment and paralyzing fear of failure can cause withdrawal from activities and incur social isolation.

Participation in the Memories in the Making program validates a person’s sense of self, creating confidence in current abilities.  It also helps people with dementia feel accomplished, gives them something to concentrate upon and provides them with a tangible reward for their efforts. Plus, there are other aspects that contribute to the success of the Memories in the Making program. By meeting weekly, participants are given opportunities for socialization, which is a huge brain-boosting activity. They can relax in a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere, make friends with others in the same situation as themselves and be present in the moment.

The process of creating art or even viewing it can have a positive effect on those dealing with Alzheimer’s. What the Memories in the Making program specifically offers the person with dementia is an alternative method for communicating one’s innermost thoughts, feelings and connections to a precious past. Additionally, art seems to have a calming effect on behaviors common to individuals with dementia such as anxiety, aggression, apathy and agitation. Participation in this valuable program benefits not only the enrollee, but also the entire family and care partner network. The Memories in the Making program is living proof that a picture is worth a thousand words.

For more information about when and where this program is offered, contact the local Alzheimer’s Association at 407-951-7992 or access the website www.alz.org/cnfl.