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

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