My member and I get along very well. Often times he would be in the process of teasing someone or creating a dramatic situation when I arrived, and then expect me to be his sidekick in antagonizing other members about their age. It seems a bit terrible (and in a way it was), but a lot of the times it was simply funny, something I couldn’t acknowledge with laughter out of respect for others but that I would chuckle about when I got home. I realized after maybe the second time there, that I was pretty wrong about the conversations I expected to happen vs. the conversations I didn’t expect. We could talk about anything. We talked about bullies, swimming lessons, dating, etc…and everyone at my table had a great dynamic. I can’t even count the number of times we ended up shaking in laughter.
I guess the reason I wanted to write about laughing is because when I first thought about what volunteering would be like, I assumed (as I’m sure others do) that it would be a very solemn, heavy business. However sad Alzheimer’s may be as a condition, these wonderful people get through it with laughter and a lightness that I only hope to emulate in the face of personal tragedy. They do not treat it as a tragedy at all, (at least in my experience) but a dry comedy for the ages.
~ Sarah, Art & Design student
I was apprehensive at first about working with Silverclub and Elderberry. The staff member had made several remarks about how excited everyone was to be working with right-brained creative types, which I don’t consider myself at all. I’m a designer, a problem solver, and when I can’t approach things in a calculated, analytical matter, I’m frozen. And now I wouldn’t just be frozen in my inability to get my own work done, but I would have someone counting on me to navigate the scary world of “fine arts,” and I’d let them down too!
My Elderberry Club partner frequently mentioned that she was “no artist” but this turned out not to be an impediment to our collaboration, but a blessing. I told her I wasn’t either and we relieved her fears of not being talented enough to do artwork and my fears of not being creative enough to do artwork. Together, we did the projects each week without getting too serious about them and enjoyed each other’s company. The greatest benefit of this prolonged exposure became obvious with the final, individual project, when I told her to tell me what she wanted from the vase we would design together. “Tell me if you think it looks right; tell me if you think it doesn’t,” I told her. And she did. I think this was really important because it became clear that you didn’t need to be “an artist” to be creative. All you needed was to want to see something be created, whether thats a vase, or a painting, or a piece of music, and everyone has that somewhere inside of them.
~Ian, Senior, Art & Design
When people talk about dementia, it seems like the focus tends to be on what is lost. This is for good reason, certainly; loss of memory leads to a lot of confusion, uncertainty, and sometimes sorrow, as we’ve seen at Silver Club and Elderberry. That said, working with members in Silver Club over the past semester has really made me more interested in what pieces remain in a person living with Alzheimer’s.
For the most part, art has really been a great outlet for discovering where people’s interests lie if they don’t directly tell you. In fact, what I found was that situations in which members took to a project immediately always happened unexpectedly. A woman that I worked with a while ago is in fairly advanced stages of dementia, but when you give her a paint brush, she makes beautiful and precise images in such a way that can only have come from experience. If I asked her what she thought about what she was making, she wasn’t afraid to engage critically with the piece. “I don’t know,” she said, “it needs something. Maybe we should get some lunch and come back to it.”
Another woman that I worked with a number of times made evident several weeks ago that she just wasn’t really feeling up to making art. I got to a point where I stopped introducing projects to her, and just spent the time focusing on singing together; she has a database of memorized lyrics like I’ve never seen! Even though I gave up on the visual aspect a little while ago, a staff member lent us her ipad on one of the last Silver Club days and invited us to play with an app that lets you doodle on the screen. To my surprise, my partner took to it very well, despite frustration with the technology, and had a very deliberate and intentional way of creating line. It was exciting to see her readdress the interest in art that I knew she had- if only for a brief time! It’s amazing to me that both of these women can tap into a deep-seated interest and talent in art that, at this point, they may not even know they had.
~Sarah Hall, Art & Design student
Working with Silver Club members as part of this semester’s outreach
course was so much more of an enjoyable experience than I could have ever
have hoped for. Members were always very enthusiastic and passionate about
everything they did. There was so much character in the room when I would look
around and even if someone was not entirely thrilled about what was going on
or if people were being quiet there was still so much personality and depth being
expressed. Every member was such an individual and had their own way of going
about things that was so honest and infectiously charming I couldn’t help it but to
laugh or crack a smile. Small repeated habits from week to week, warm greetings,
hearty laughter, and catching up on the weeks happenings amongst countless other
things all added up to make a unique and very genuine experience that I imagine
many will never get to experience. I greatly enjoyed the Tuesdays I spent at the
Silver Club and I hope that the members enjoyed that shared time as well.
~Kyle, UM Art & Design Student
From what I remember from our first meeting, my Silver Club partner and I were very, quiet and awkward with one another. I was full of nerves and deathly afraid she wouldn’t like me and that we would have nothing to talk about. But little did I know that meeting with her week after week, I would gain such a wonderful and pleasant friendship with my member.
During our meetings, she and I would talk whilst doing art, discussing her childhood, teasing each other about the men in our lives (or ones we soon hoped would be!), my college life and the best part: we would sing together. Each week I went, I would find out something new about her she had never told me before and also remember the stories she recounted to me earlier. Our conversations were ones that were lively, full of laughter, and sometimes some silence too. Both of us developed a nice rhythm with one another, a comfortable rapport and silence in which both of us understood each other and became a part of our weekly interactions. With this, our friendship has grown, and I cannot be happier.
When I signed up for this class, I was extremely curious about dementia and how it affects somebody’s life. Since I’ve only had one experience with it in my family, I wondered what it would be like in the lives of others’. After working with my Silver Club partner and learning all that we have by taking this class, it is clear that some things never will be the same when dementia affects someone. Yet, I’ve realized that dementia brings out so much in a person in a different way.
On our last day, we had the exhibition of all of the Silver Club and Elderberry members’ artwork that we had completed during the semester. Looking back, I couldn’t have been more proud. The hard work and dedication our partners have put in to our weekly meetings throughout the entire semester were up on easels and were a sight to behold. I was so excited to take my Silver Club partner and show her the work we had created together displayed so nicely amongst all the work that was there. Everyone’s work looked fantastic and was definitely a great self-esteem boost for every member who saw his or her work in such a formal setting. Overall, I have to say it was a wonderful experience for everyone who attended.
I want to personally thank my Silver Club partner for all that she has been to me. She has become a great friend and I am so happy to have met her. I would also like to thank the Silver Club and Elderberry members and all the staff who helped us. Thank you so much for making this experience the best it can be. I know for sure that I would like to come back and I can’t wait till I do.
~Aditi, University of Michigan Student
The last palindromic day of the year (3/19/13) was the first day of my collaborative project with my Elderberry partner. Throughout the semester, she often brought up the established hobbies in her life: gardening, cooking, vegetarianism, painting, but above all, singing. After learning this, one day I tried singing some Beatles tunes with her, and was pleasantly surprised to find that she remembered the lyrics to Blackbird. She remarked, “I’m so glad to know young people are still singing things like that,” which made me laugh, and I assured her that we young people knew all about the Beatles.
Therefore, when the time came for us to plan our collaborative projects, I decided I would learn some Beatles songs and, manned with my guitar, sing with my partner.
I was really nervous, anticipating that she wouldn’t enjoy the activity, or wouldn’t remember any of the lyrics and I would end up serenading her, which I would have enjoyed, but I wasn’t sure that she would. However, everything ended up being fine. I strummed, and we sang, and during the choruses of certain songs, I was delighted by how her voice rang out, and I could tell she radiated happiness.
That day was a little different from previous sessions where we worked together on paintings, collages, and the like. Though she enjoyed spending time together and creating art, I could tell on that first day of our collaborative project, my partner was genuinely happy. I could tell that singing is what she uninhibitedly enjoys.
This experience made me realize that it didn’t matter if my partner remembered the lyrics or not. She simply enjoyed the act of singing, sharing in a musical experience and letting her voice ring out. I had been so hung up on making sure to print the lyrics in a big enough font and organizing the papers while we were singing. However, halfway through the hour, I realized I needed to just let it go and put the papers down and look at my partner and sing. That’s when we enjoyed it the most, and it reminded me of the importance of relaxing and flexibility in every aspect of life, not just working with a person with Alzheimer’s disease.
– Emily Paik, Art & Design and Psychology student
Today was probably my most rewarding day yet at the Elderberry Club.
The Elderberry partner that I work with is not far along in her prognosis; therefore we are able to maintain good conversation throughout the time we spend together, and she discusses what she knows will be coming in the near future. We have fun conversations as well as very real ones. My Elderberry partner normally remembers much of what we discussed the previous week, however she doesn’t always remember much of the artwork we did. The main thing my partner does remember is the positive experience of spending time together.
Today we worked on a piece of art, but spent most of the time discussing our families, life experiences, and what comes next for me after college. However, for the first time at the end of our meeting, my Elderberry partner expressed to me her gratitude and love for the program we are a part of. She discussed how Tuesday afternoons have been the high light of her past few months, and was so upset that we don’t meet more often and that our collaboration will soon be ending. She expressed how being creative and talking with me kept her mind off of the disease, and brought a lot of joy to her life. She also expressed how earlier today the group listened to music from her youth, and that it made her feel so calm, relaxed, and happy for the first time in a while. In class, we have done many readings about the positive effects the arts have on patients with dementia, but to hear it first hand was a remarkable and enlightening experience. It also inspired me to continue this kind of work in the future.
– Samantha, UM Art & Design and History of Art student