Every Wednesday afternoon, for the past five months, I’ve brought Oma (my grandma) to the Carolyn L. Farrell Foundation's Art Care for Dementia program hosted at Westlake Village. To do so, I visit her and greet her with a hug and kiss. Then I ask if she’s up to going to Art Care, which she always is. Some days it takes a lot of work to get her ready. It’s really unpredictable how much time it will take to get Oma ready, out the door, and into the car. Not just because of Oma’s limited mobility, but also the assisted living facility she’s in makes it unpredictable. For example, one time Oma and I were late for Art Care because we had to wait twenty minutes for the elevator. The electricity was off for both of them while they were being repaired, and there is no other way to get Oma out of the building. Even though it can take a while, and be frustrating to get Oma to Art Care, it is totally worth it for both of us.
Just the car ride to Art Care is beneficial to our relationship. I find it easier to talk to her during the car ride than in the living room of her apartment. In the car, the conversation does not seem as obligatory and forced. Oma always tells me how grateful she is to just get out. She also likes to point out trees along the way. Now that it is autumn we are both admiring the colors changing.
We always feel welcome at Art Care. The staff and program participants are always so great to be around. They have friendly greetings and conversations with us. I think it’s especially helpful for Oma to talk to others with dementia. She obviously has some short term memory loss. As a result she often ends up having the same conversation three or more times within a twenty minute time period. When the conversation is with another person with similar short term memory issues they don’t even realize that it’s happening, and therefore have an easier time staying engaged with each other.
At Art Care they do different types of art projects, sing, or come up with stories through Timeslips. Oma always has a good time. Even though she cannot see well, she’s able to participate in all of the activities. Sometimes we work on the art projects together, like the collage we made from torn pieces of paper, which is shown in the picture of us. Other times we work separately on the art projects. On some of the projects she needs more help than others. She knows the lyrics to most of the songs that are sung, and at least enjoys listening when she doesn’t. She’s a talker and although she cannot see all of the details in the pictures that they use to tell stories for Timeslips, she contributes to every story and enjoys listening to other contributors and the completed story. I’ve learned so much about Oma, her life, and my heritage, through our participation in Art Care. We’re always proud of the art we’ve created; doing it together also helps foster our relationship.
After the activity we always have cookies and coffee. The cookies are always great. This time also allows for socializing with the other Art Care participants. Many of them attend Art Care regularly. It’s great to be getting to know them better every week.
On the way home, Oma always tells me how great a time she had. She is always so grateful to me for thinking of her and taking her to Art Care. She has said multiple times that it is the highlight of her week. It means so much to me that just spending a few hours with her to get her to and from Art Care can be so meaningful to her. I’m so grateful for all Art Care has done for Oma and my relationship with her. Without Art Care, I feel it would be so much harder to maintain a relationship with Oma. It would feel more like a chore to go visit her. I really look forward to taking Oma to Art Care, though. It’s our special time together and we both have a good time there.
When I told Oma that I was writing a blog post about Art Care and asked if she wanted to add anything she said, “I think it’s wonderful. Older people tend to feel alone. It keeps us connected to the world. The fact that someone cares means that you’re not alone. It’s a touch of love.” Thank you Rev. Katie, Charlie, Gretty, Katherine, Lori, and all those who make the work of the CLF Foundation and Westlake Village possible.