Strength and humor

[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.]

What struck me most about my community member from day one was her strength. Her poised, confident and humorous manner is something I strive for everyday, yet she does it with ease. Every time we met I would learn a little bit more about her adventurous life and was amazed by her strong independence, particularly since she grew up in a time when female independence was much less common.  She is clearly proud of her life but it is a calm, complacent pride- happiness. During most of the visits, we just ended up chatting the entire time, discussing life, politics and travel. I felt guilty that we were not painting or collaging like other pairs but I felt like by sharing stories and realizing the similarities of experiences, we were creating something special all our own.

The most memorable of stories was when we were discussing my community member’s trip through Europe. While in Germany she visited a former concentration camp. I had studied abroad last year and also visited a concentration camp. Retelling both our experiences of walking through the camps was chilling and depressing but also incredible because they were so similar. We both described the weight we felt looming over us as we walked through and just the unshakable feeling of death. Despite our many differences, it was a shared understanding and experience that brought us closer.

One personal struggle that I find, as a woman today is the ability to express strength and confidence while maintaining a sense of emotional presence. It is easy to get caught up in the female dichotomy of the strong heartless or the weak emotional woman. In my community member I pleasantly found that she had hit the sweet spot, confidence and strength appeared natural to her but did not close her off to emotion. She seemed to welcome emotions yet handle them with poise. It’s an attribute that I admire immensely and I hope to one day emulate.

~Emily, Art & Design Student 

A Sense of Community through Drumming

[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 taking Retaining Identity last year, I knew immediately that I wanted to repeat the experience while working with the Wisdom Keepers. I came into class with a general sense of how to work with older adults with memory loss, but I can’t even begin to expand upon how many different ways of working with this population I learned this semester.

As a shy and awkward person, I expected the interactions with the members and the students, particularly my own interaction, to be very hesitant and wary. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised with the strength through which all the members and students responded to one another especially in our first group drumming activity. Four of us were randomly called upon to sit in the center and somehow create a rhythm together.

And create we did.

It astounded me how much the members and students responded to each other when creating such beats. Even those who weren’t drumming in the center were extremely enraptured by the beat filling the room. Some were even clapping along with the beat. Never before had I felt such an exhilaration and sense of community by watching people drum together. It is almost as if the music was speaking to all of us, encouraging us to work together in the present and in the future.

After working with the community members for another semester, I feel the introduction of activities that are not just focused on the fine arts really helped the members and students connect. I for one will never underestimate the power of music again. Whether it be through drumming, painting, singing, or dancing, I hope to continue these interactions with the members as working with them has been an extremely fulfilling experience.

~ Aditi Gang, Junior, Art & Design and Psychology student

Sharing knowledge

A couple weeks ago, a family friend asked me for advice about someone who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease knowing that I work in a retirement home. I was really excited to tell her about Memory, Aging, and Expressive Arts and what I learned from the course. It felt great to help someone gain a better understanding of the disease and relieve some of her worries just by sharing some of the knowledge I have gained from the class. I recommended her to look into programs like the Silver Club.

My time working with the Wisdom Keepers was different from what I was expecting. There is not a dramatic change in the disease and sometimes you can’t help but wonder if you are helping at all. I learned to pay attention to the subtle details to see the effect. By noticing little improvements, I saw so many wonderful things happen during my short time with the Wisdom Keepers.

My first time meeting the Wisdom Keeper member I was going to work with, I got the impression that she was a little quiet, and maybe even sad. Our day pretty much started the same each week. We would have the same conversation and when the artwork began, my member always reminded me that she was no good but she will try. Once she started painting or collaging, she became very focused and determined to get her work just right. The final product always turned out beautiful and it was exciting to see how happy that made her. She was all smiles as she showed her work to the other members and her daughter. She could not wait to bring the work home and hang it up.

The change from our first meeting to the last was incredible. Her memory was not great, she repeated the same sentences often, forgetting that she told me the same thing just ten minutes before. On our last afternoon together, she brought up the art exhibition that we talked about the previous week and said how excited she was for it. This moment will stick with me for a long time.

Making someone happy is one of the best feelings and I am so proud that I could see the positive impact our work was having on the members. The members were not the only ones gaining from weekly meet ups. I have grown as a person and have a better perspective on aging, happiness, and life in general. I feel so privileged to have had this experience.

~ Kristine, UM Art & Design Student 

What do you think about old people?

“What do you think about old people?” This was a question that my community partner asked during one of our Wisdom Keeper art sessions. I answered her, “They are like a storybook because I love to hear their stories, and I actually have learned life lessons from their stories.”

To me, listening to their stories are the most memorable part of each session.  Among many interesting stories that I’ve heard, my favorite one was a lesson from my community partner. She said, “Life is tough and busy, yet there are so many small things that you can enjoy. So, you don’t have to rush to do something. Look around and enjoy those small things, like a cup of tea or a glass of wine.” Maybe it’s because my recent days have been rough, maybe it’s because of her stories that she told me before she told me this or maybe both, this truly touched my heart. When I heard it, I felt relieved and comforted. After that day, I saw myself as a person who values and appreciates what is around me much more.

Before I started this class, I thought that this class would be an opportunity that I could help other people with my ability. However, during and after each session, I realized that I was the one who was learning from the community members. What I learned and gained from the Wisdom Keeper members is bigger than what I gave them. Overall I thought my experience at Wisdom Keepers was a great opportunity that helped me to relax from daily busy life and to find the meaning of true happiness in my life.  

~Ji-woo, Senior, Art & Design Student

Connecting with the Community

The following is a post written by a student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts, our new interdisciplinary course. This semester students are collaborating with Wisdom Keepers club members, one of the U-M Geriatric Centers Mild Memory Loss Programs.             Take a look!


Every Wednesday, I work with a wonderful community member that loves sharing her passion for storytelling and helping the community.  She has tremendous ambition and goals regarding things she would like to do to help people in her community.  Specifically, she is interested in helping patients at Mott Children’s hospital.  She has thought of all sorts of ideas from making blankets or bed pads, to seeking out U of M athletes to visit the children and pass out signed photographs.  Her passion for the community seems to stem from her desire to connect with others.  She connects with people by using one of her greatest strengths—her voice!  This community member is extremely articulate and vocal.  More often than not, she is found walking around Wisdom Keepers or sitting at our table storytelling and talking.

As we create things, she continues to tell stories of family, friends, recent events, and new projects she has been thinking about.   This community member’s stories always have one thing in common—laughter!   One day, she shared a story with me about spotting an injured deer on the side of the road.  She saw a truck drive up and a person jump out to pick up the deer and put it in their truck bed.  She was so moved by this.  She thought, “How sweet! That person is taking that poor deer to the vet!”  Later, she told a friend the story of the wonderfully kind people that helped the deer.  The friend replied, “Honey, they were not helping that deer—they were going to eat it!”  The community member and I had quite a laugh about that!

As I have gotten to know my community member, I have realized how important it is to observe and become aware of your specific member’s expectations of this process.  I have addressed this by listening and understanding her project ideas and adapting them to fit our skill set and time constraint.  Further, as we have become more comfortable around one another, I’ve learned how to give her what she needs.  For example, I can sense when she needs someone to listen and engage with her or when she needs a bit more direction from me.  This experience continues to be a hilariously fun time and an opportunity for personal growth!  I am excited to continue working and getting to know my community member.


Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

Funded by the University of Michigan Transforming Learning for Third Century (TLTC) Quick Wins grant program, this semester we are offering a new course that brings together students and professors from across campus.

Uniquely engaging U-M academic institutions and the U-M Health System, Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts builds an understanding and awareness of the complexities of memory loss and introduces the use of the expressive arts. For the past month, students have met with specialists in neurology, public health, social work, and the arts to learn about the scientific basis of memory and dementia, the societal basis of dementia, and institutional projects to support individuals with memory impairment.  Students have also been exploring their own creativity through painting, storytelling, and drumming.

Partnering with University of Michigan Geriatric Centers Mild Memory Loss Programs, students have been paired with a Wisdom Keeper club member to explore the potential of the arts to serve as an outlet for expression and to learn from shared experiences.   In the coming weeks, students will be collaborating with the Wisdom Keeper members on a variety of creative experiences.  Please stay tuned as students will be sharing their insights and lessons learned in future posts.

Anne Mondro, Associate Professor, University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design


Retaining Identity exhibition and video news!

Earlier this month, Elaine Reed and I had an opportunity to present at the 2013 Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s (MADC) Appreciation Luncheon “Preserving Wellness through Research and Creativity.”  As part of our presentation on our creative interventions, we created this short video highlighting the amazing artwork created by members from the Silver Club and Elderberry Club, which are part of the University of Michigan Geriatric Center’s Mild Memory Loss Programs.  In collaboration with U-M Stamps School of Art & Design Students, club members created these fantastic works of art!

The artwork is currently on display in the South Lobby Gallery on the first floor of the University of Michigan Hospital, located at 1500 East Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

For more information on the exhibition please visit

~ Anne Mondro, Associate Professor, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design