Farrell Blog

Art Care With Dementia

Melinda Raiford - Wednesday, December 04, 2013

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.

Dementia Friendly Art Project: Pumpkin Painting

Katie Norris - Friday, October 25, 2013

Every week we lead an art care for dementia program and I thought it might be helpful for those of you who are living farther away from the Cleveland area and who can't get to our programs to see some of the dementia friendly art projects we make so that you can do them at home with your loved one. Since this is Halloween week, I wanted to share with you some pumpkin painting. 

Almost any art project can be made dementia friendly if you create each step to be accessible to your care partners ability. For instance, in the pumpkin painting project, you use masking tape to create a design on your pumpkin. People with early stage dementia can often just be given a roll of masking tape, shown a photo of a taped pumpkin, and they create a design on their own. For people with mid-stage dementia, you might need to draw lines on the pumpkin and tell them to place the tape over the lines so they have a guide. For late stage dementia you might need to pre-tape the pumpkin for them. If you pre-tape the pumpkin, you can do it with the person and get some feedback from them. Ask if they like the tape at the top or bottom of the pumpkin and if they want a flower shape or a jack-o-lantern face. You can also make the design more simple, such as just instructing your care partner to place one pice of tape around the center of the pumpkin so that just half of the pumpkin gets painted. There are many ways to break down each step to reach the ability of the person you are working with.

- Pumpkins in various sizes. You can even use craft (fake) pumpkins.
- Tempera paint for regular pumpkins, acrylic for craft pumpkins.
- Large paint sponge or paint brush.
- Masking tape.
- Jewel stickers (optional if you want to add some sparkle!)

Steps (under each step, I list a few options based on different levels of dementia):
1. Wash and dry the outside of your pumpkin.
Participant can wash and dry the pumpkin on their own. 
For more advanced dementia, you can wash the pumpkin and let them dry it.

2. Place masking tape design on your pumpkin.
Draw lines on the pumpkin for the participant to follow as they tape.
For late stage dementia, ask where they would like the tape placed and you can place it for them. Let them use their fingers to push the tape down firmly.

3. Paint your pumpkin either all one color or several different colors, painting right over the tape.
Use only one or two colors for later stage dementia.
If the participant can not hold a paint brush, ask them, "Would you like this spot to be yellow or red?" and you can paint that part of the pumpkin for them.

4. Let your paint dry throughly. (You can use a hairdryer on warm to help it dry quickly.)

5. Remove the tape from your pumpkin, revealing your design.
For more advanced dementia, help them take off the tape and keep the design simple so there is not a lot of overlapping tape which can make it hard to remove later. 

6. Add jewel stickers and you are finished!
Use a Sharpie marker and make dots where they can place the jewels.

Benefits of this Project:
  • Tasks such as placing the tape and washing and drying the pumpkin all help keep up manual dexterity.
  • Holding a paintbrush helps reinforce the pincher grasp which we need to maintain because this is the grasp we use to button our clothes and use zippers.
  • Choosing colors and patterns gives the person with dementia choice, which is essential to feeling a sense of joy and purpose when they are dealing with an illness that often takes away many of their choices.
  • Activities work the brain and help decrease boredom, which decreases agitation.
  • It's fun and you get to spend quality time together.

Making it More Meaningful:
All people love to be of service to others, to know that they can still contribute to making the world a better place. People with dementia especially like to know that what they are doing has meaning and purpose.

  • Create these pumpkins to then take to decorate friends rooms if you are in an assisted living facility or will be visiting one. 
  • Give these pumpkins to grandchildren or a school or to a hospital as room decorations.
  • Donate the pumpkins to your church to use as table decorations for coffee hour or potlucks.

Ohio's First Memory Cafe

Katie Norris - Monday, June 03, 2013

Today was the first session of Ohio's first Memory Cafe! 

A while ago we learned about the Memory Cafe program in the UK which provides a stigma-free, supportive environment for people with memory impairment and their caregivers. That is the foundation of these cafe's, which many of us have now started in the US. Within that framework, each cafe has it's own feel and structure.

For our Memory Cafe, we wanted to provide a comfortable place for people with all stages of dementia and their caregivers to socialize, share advice, support each other, and also provide resources and participate in our signature art care activities. 

At our first session today, we talked and supported each other. We told our stories, people gave helpful advice to each other, and we discussed topics such as exercise and diet as it concerns dementia. We got a feel for what people are looking for and what kinds of activities they enjoy so we can bring some imaginative activities to our future sessions.

What I noticed today is that our Memory Cafe will fill a much needed hole in the care for people with dementia. In our area, Cleveland, OH, there are only support groups for people with early stage dementia and you graduate from that program in about two years. These support groups are great, but after they end, people living at home with dementia do not have an outside support system. We need to continue these groups throughout the person's life and the group format needs to be structured in a way that is accessible even to people with late stage dementia. The group today let us know that they really want a place just to casually talk and help each other as well as have some fun. 

The Memory Cafe will evolve as we go along, but it will be a combination things. We will provide room for discussion where you can bring whatever questions and reflections you have and we will all support each other. Participants can let us know topics they are interested in knowing more about and we can address those and even have speakers come in sometimes. We will also have art based activities put together at differing levels so that they are accessible to people from early to late stage dementia. 

One of our participants with memory impairment put it well when they said that they just wanted a place where they could speak honestly about their life in the moment, get support, and have some fun as well. This mixture of programming will provide such an environment. 

We are so excited for this Memory Cafe and how it will serve our community. This is something that we all get to build together and each session we will discover the needs of the group and how to bring to people the care that they need.

It was a wonderful day that just filled your heart with gladness. 

We invite everyone to attend or volunteer if you would like:

1st and 3rd Monday's of the month at Westlake Community Services: 29694 Center Ridge Rd. Westlake, OH 44145. Registration is needed to make sure we have enough supplies: (440) 899-3544.


Rev. Katie

Communication and Dementia: Say What You Are Doing

Katie Norris - Saturday, February 23, 2013

When you work with people with dementia, or really if you are a caregiver or medical professional for anyone with any illness, you need to communicate well with them. One of the most important things people (family, friends, and licensed medical professionals and caregivers) forget when dealing with people with advanced dementia is to communicate everything with them.

Far too often, someone comes into the room of someone with advanced dementia and they just start caring for them. They don't introduce who they are and they do not let the person know what they are going to do to them. Even if you are a family member, always introduce yourself. "Hi Mom, it's me Katie." And then let them know what you are going to do, "I am going to read you a story from the newspaper" or "We need to get you cleaned up so first I am going to turn you on your side. Katie will hold on to you while I change your underwear." 

This may sound unimportant to you, but it is really scary for people who are unable to respond or who may be in distress to have people come in and do whatever they want to them. Often agitation around dressing, toileting, and moving can be lessened or alleviated by making sure you actually tell the person what you are doing. 

How would you feel if someone just came into your bedroom, even your own spouse or partner, and they started changing your clothes, putting you in a Hoyer Lift like the one in this picture (which Charlie and the dog are demonstrating for training purposes) that brings you up into the air and swings you around? Would you feel safe? Would you feel like you had dignity? Would you feel like you had some agency in your life or that anyone cared about you? Probably not. 

It is very easy to assume that just because someone is non-responsive, they stare off into space, or their medications make them "loopy," that they don't feel, hear, or know anything, but that is not true. It can be very scary to have people doing whatever they want to you with no warning as to what is going on.

In reality, this is true for all of us. A few weeks ago my son was getting his teeth cleaned and the technician took out the tool that sucks water out of your mouth and he stopped her and said "What is that? What does it do?" He wanted to know which tool was going to be used so he knew what to expect. This is what we all want and hopefully we will all remember to provide this care to our loved ones and patients with dementia. 


Rev. Katie