Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

Below is a student blog post as part of the course Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts. Enjoy!  ~ Anne Mondro

Hi. My name is Sandy. I’m a master’s student in the School of Social Work. I am in the last few weeks of my program, and I am excited to finish the coursework and dive into the practice of social work. I hope to continue working with older adults, individuals with memory loss, and family care partners. Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts has been the highlight of the program, and I will be sad when the course is over. The best part of the class has been the incredible experience of being welcomed into the Coffeehouse community, and getting to know the members. I have had the opportunity to talk with many of the members, and experience art – either through observation or actual participation – with them as well. I do not bring an art background to this experience so the activities that are planned to engage the club members and the students have been a learning experience for me as well. Sharing activities like drumming, painting and dancing are a wonderful way to break down barriers and bring people together, which is just what has happened over the past few weeks.

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts: Importance of Family

The following is a post written by Sydney,  one of our students in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts. Her post shares her interest in taking the course and reflects on the importance of community and family.  We look forward to sharing more posts with you in the coming month.  ~ Anne Mondro, Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts Professor

I registered for Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts in order to gain knowledge about the complexity of memory loss. By taking this course I hoped to develop various strategies in order to effectively connect with individuals, like my grandfather, who suffers from memory loss. I did not expect this class to alter my appreciation for my family as well as to deepen relationships with my parents and grandparents. In particular, my appreciation for my family heightened after hearing our guest care partner speak about her experience caring for her mother with Alzheimer’s. She stressed the importance of a close-knit family as the base of her strong support system.

Being in college, I am unable to see my family on a daily basis. Even though I am unable to physically see my family, I still keep a constant dialogue with them. Family is the most important and stable thing I have in my life,  and I will not allow the distance between us to affect our relationship. This course has reinforced the significance that family plays in my life. With aging, the importance of family is heightened. My grandma (Nana) says family keeps her young. My grandfather (Pop-Pop) agrees. Family is the most important thing they have. In my family, there is a consensus that family is the core of happiness.

The Coffeehouse Club has been a home away from home for me. Each Thursday, as I walk into Coffeehouse, I feel a rush of emotions associated with positive family memories. The relationship I share with my Coffeehouse member is incredible. Talking with her makes me feel as though she is my grandmother. In particular, hearing simple stories from her life about travel, childhood, and secret home remedies has taught me countless life lessons. A few weeks ago, she told me about going to drive-in movie theatres with her high school boyfriend. This memory she shared was extremely special. Through the various stories, we have created a strong granddaughterly/grandma bond. Each Thursday, I leave Coffeehouse upbeat and cheerful, feeling a positive aura. In addition, as soon as I get home,  I call my grandmother in Bethesda to say hi. I feel so fortunate to be part of this amazing program, and I hope to share everything I have learned with my family.

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

As part of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts, students are paired with Coffeehouse club members to explore, create, and share together.  The Coffeehouse club is one of the U-M Geriatric Centers Mild Memory Loss Programs in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and serves people in Ann Arbor and surrounding communities.  Below is a student reflection on the course and a recent visit to the University of Michigan Museum of Art, one of the many activities planned for the students and Coffeehouse members to enjoy together. 

Hello, I am an art student interested in the effect of aging and mental cognition. I come from a military background before coming to the University of Michigan. My interest in this program was to explore successful processes in dealing with the challenges of the disease and to be surrounded by strong experienced people. I also have an underlying hope that there may be an opportunity to share these skills and techniques with people with PTSD and vice versa.

Either case I am a strong believer in interactive support and find myself at constant surprise engaging with the Coffeehouse Members. We had a great opportunity to engage with members privately during our trip at the museum. I was surprise at the level of speed and intensity that my Coffeehouse member was operating at. I knew he was energetic and went out on runs. Once we where divided into teams, it was a bit difficult to unify everyone’s suggestions. My Coffeehouse member was already showing display of eagerness to go and took the initiative to start without us. So I just followed him, and doing so I discovered my misjudgment of his physical ability. He would run off from station to station. Once I got caught up we talked for a short while about the artwork. It was refreshing to find someone so knowledgeable and passionate about the artwork as I. The next day I was mentally sore from the information overload given by my member as well as physically sore just trying to keep up with him.

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts (MAEA) 2015 is underway! Sixteen students in art and design and social work are building their understanding and awareness of the complexity of memory loss and exploring various forms of creative expression to prepare to collaborate with the Coffeehouse Club, one of the University of Michigan (U-M) Geriatric Centers Mild Memory Loss Programs.

The start of the semester has included some insightful lectures and presentations. Dr. Nan Barbas, a University of Michigan (U-M) professor in neurology, introduced the science of memory including discussing the various types of memory and the concept that memories aren’t concrete. Professor Beth Spencer in the U-M School of Social Work discussed aging and the challenges that older adults face. Laura Rice-Oeschger, U-M Coffeehouse Program Facilitator and MADC Wellness Coordinator, introduced the concepts of personhood and wellbeing in relation to memory loss. Andee Jannsen, trained in dementia care, spoke to the students to touch upon key interpersonal skills and best practices for working with memory-impaired adults.

The lectures and presentations have been balanced with creative activities. Teaching with Elaine Reed, U-M Hospital Artist in Residence and Co-Facilitator of Silver Club Mild Memory Loss Programs, we are introducing various modes of creative expression. We have explored writing including poetry and story building and just completed a two-week visual art exercise to practice developing age-appropriate and sophisticated projects. This coming week we’ll be exploring Ipad apps to build creative projects around and hear from a U-M composer and former MAEA student on using music to connect to others.

All that said, the course couldn’t exist without the Coffeehouse club members, a group of amazing and inspiring men and women. Their kindness and openness has already been recognized by several of the students over the past few weeks.

The students and Coffeehouse members meet together every Thursday morning to share in new creative experiences. Together they have explored a music activity, a dance class, and visited the University of Michigan Museum of Art. In the coming weeks the students and Coffeehouse members will be paired to create collaborative projects based on their interests.

MAEA relies on creativity to bring people together, to provide moments of discovery, joy, and kindness. Stay tuned as the students and Coffeehouse members share their insights on this experience!

~Anne Mondro, Associate Professor, Stamps School of Art & Design, Lead Instructor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 

Creating Synergy

[The current posts are written by students in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  Partnering with U-M Geriatric Centers, Mild Memory Loss, Silver Club Programs, students have been paired with community members to create together.]

As I applied to the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan a little over a year ago, I had no idea that a course at the School of Art and Design would pop up in my class schedule. Fortunately, I was enlightened to the Memory, Aging and Expressive Arts course and encouraged to take it by my colleagues at the Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center where I am currently completing an MSW internship.

Much to the surprise of a 23 year old social worker who to this day has trouble coloring in the lines, combining the skills of working with an older adult population with the lack of skills I have in the world of arts, created a synergy I could not have expected. When working with the members of the University of Michigan Silver Club programs, there is no pressure to be the next Picasso. Many days, there isn’t even pressure to create art. The members simply enjoy interacting with younger folks who have a sincere interest in learning about the experiences of aging first hand. The addition of creative expression gets to be that extra trigger that really enhances the experience for an older adult living with memory changes as well as the experience for the student who is learning how dementia can open up new parts of a person that were never there before. All of a sudden, the stoic attorney finds joy in painting his favorite landscapes. The professional and academic medical doctor finds that while she may no longer be able to verbally express herself due to aphasia, worlds are opened up through creating new musical works or even just listening to ageless songs that bring back the happiest memories of our younger years.

It doesn’t take a professional to harness the power of creativity to relate with those in all stages of memory loss. It only takes a person intuitive enough and patient enough to realize that dementia not only brings declines in some areas such as short term memory but it also brings out unknown strengths and joys that can bring just as much pleasure and enjoyment to life. It has been eye opening to work with people across disciplines this semester as well as the true experts on memory loss…those living with it.

~ Kenny, UM Student

Connecting through creativity

[The current posts are written by students in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  Partnering with U-M Geriatric Centers, Mild Memory Loss, Silver Club Programs, students have been paired with community members to create together.]

After the first few weeks of meeting, I started to get a feel for the way my community member and I would be able to interact. He had trouble with remembering things short term, misplacing the glue, needing a reminder which color we were working with. Week to week, he couldn’t recall my name or anything about me, although he seemed more comfortable working with me than he had at the beginning. It was fascinating that although he couldn’t recall the particulars of our relationship, we were still becoming more familiar with each other through some level of connection.

During the third meeting, we began piecing together a mosaic from glass and stones, forming the image of a tulip to celebrate the arrival of spring. Even while having difficulty recalling or recognizing the image we were working on, our relationship deepened and when we came back to the project the next week, it was apparent that the familiar activity helped him feel comfortable with the project and my presence.

My community partner has lived a life of amazing adventures traveling the world and following his horticultural passions running a nursery for many years. While his memories of these events are fragmented and distant, much like the particulars of our time spent together, the experiences of his life have still imprinted on him making him the kind, joyful person that he is.

On our final meeting for the class, the art show at the botanical gardens, I had arrived before my community partner and was waiting anxiously, hoping he would recognize our work among all of the projects. When he arrived I has thrilled to see him from across the room and that he recognized me and came straight over, excited to introduce me to his son. In these moments, he was the most confident and cheerful I had seen him since we started working together. He said to me “I am so happy to see you here, we have been working together for a couple weeks now and you know I can’t quite remember everything but I can feel your presence and I’m glad you are here”. I was very moved that in this moment I could be an important part of his life and the comforting presence that he needed in an unfamiliar place in order to be able to enjoy the work that everyone had made.

-Ira, UM Penny W. Stamps Art & Design 2015