Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

Thank you to all those that made another semester of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts possible!  For our last post of the semester, Kyle reflects on what he has learned.  ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

This semester in the Memory Aging & Expressive arts class, I learned so many things about memory impairment and connection by working with the members of Coffeehouse. I had a great club member who was extremely open to trying new artistic projects and practices, and at the beginning of the course stated that she wanted to try what I do in school everyday. We dyed fabric, silkscreened some prints, drew and painted. I also wanted to do some of the things that she loves to do, like baking. It was very enjoyable baking with her, and our apple pies turned out amazing. Yet the best aspect about the projects that we did was the way it allowed for conversation to happen, and I think that we both got to know a lot about each other in the short time that we met each week. I think that we both bonded with each other extremely quickly, because we both have experiences with memory loss: I with my experiences with my Grandma with Alzheimer’s and my club member living with the same disease. This similarity really allowed for us to gain an understanding of each other’s perspectives, and the different viewpoints we each had on memory. I came into this class hoping to gain more insight into what my Grandma is going through, and the different ways that we can approach this disease. Gaining this from the course and my Coffeehouse partner was an extremely rewarding and gratifying thing.

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

The following post is written by Anissa, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  Anissa reflects on her shared art experience and the lessons she has learned from collaborating with a UM Coffee House Club member.  ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory Aging & Expressive Arts 

The Florentine street map painting proved to be a success! The ideation of this piece was inspired by a conversation my Coffee House club member and I had about our mutual wonderment of Florence, Italy – the art, the city, the people… We began with a taped outline of the street map of the city, painting the little squares of open canvas in brilliant, rich colors and layering the paint on thick to make for a nice contrast with the starkness of the white streets. At first we painted on separate sides, later turning the canvas to work on each other’s, and finally painting the whole area of the canvas simultaneously. After making the final touches to our painting, we peeled off the tape that lined the streets to reveal a truly captivating work of art. Where the tape previously was hiding under the paint was now a stark, bright white of the canvas to contrast with the marbled yellows, reds, and oranges of the land and teals, blues, and purples of the river. After much examination of the painting – relating the tiny shapes of painted marvels to masterpieces framed in a gallery, to bright jewels and treasures, and to different dimensionalities – my Coffee House club member came up with the perfect title for the piece, Kaleidoscope.

Not having touched a paintbrush since a freshman year foundations course, my Coffee House club member taught me a thing or two about painting technique and color usage. When we began working on the piece, I was painting bright solids of reds and oranges. By the end of that first class period, I began experimenting with more gestural strokes of the paintbrush like I watched my club member do. When I began using this technique and we were turning the canvas around to work on the squares that the other had done, the whole piece started taking form into the cohesive, collaborative masterpiece it became!

Collaborating on a project with my Coffee House club member did away with any stigmas and nervousness I may have had about persons with dementia prior to taking this course. Everything I have learned from our readings, discussions, and presentations, as well as conversing and creating a project with him has reinforced the idea that it is better to focus on what persons with dementia can do, and our role – as outsiders to the disease – in this journey is to help make the transition as graceful and joyful as possible!


Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

The following post is written by Julia, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  The post reflects on what Julia has learned from this experience.  ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

My time at Coffeehouse Club has taught me that life is an unexpected journey, especially for those with memory loss. There are so many sudden twists and turns that have the ability to derail you from your current path. There is no way to be prepared for it, but there is always a way to reframe your thoughts and take it as a blessing.

University of Michigan Geriatrics Coffeehouse Club has the beautiful ability to make time stop. The first time I noticed it was right after I got paired with my Coffeehouse club member and we were working on our first project together. We were halfway through painting an abstract piece when I realized that not once that morning had I thought about all of the assignments I needed to complete that week, my imminent graduation, or my concern for getting a job soon. As a senior preparing to graduate from college, I had so many things running through my mind every day, but for an hour and a half every week, everything slowed down. Soon it was not just Thursday mornings that reminded me to breathe, but every day began to grow like that.

While listening to some music from her teenage years, my Coffeehouse partner came to life. She was tapping her hands and humming along with a somber smile. I asked if the music had made her upset because she cannot relive that part of her life. She looked at me and replied, “It is happiness, that I am living with all that past behind me.” My Coffeehouse partner taught me that every moment is precious. If you blink your eyes or look away just for a second, that moment could be gone. My Coffeehouse partner reminded me to quit worrying about the future, to experience the now, and that the future will come no matter what you do. She reminded me to live, and for all of that I thank her.

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

Below is an post by Megan, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015.  Megan reflects on what she has learned by working with her community partner. ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.

I am a student at the School of Social Work here at U of M, in the Geriatric Scholar and interpersonal practice program. I first became interested in working with people affected by memory loss when I was a junior in undergrad. I took a course in Aging and shortly after completed an internship in a Memory Care Unit at a local retirement community facility. I took this course, Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts, to learn more about infusing art while working with the older adult population and to also learn about Mild Cognitive Impairment, which was a completely new topic for me. At the beginning of the process when us students were meeting the Coffee House Members I was so taken aback by how willing they were to share about their memory loss. At one of our very first group sessions one of the Coffee House Members said “We are free to forget here”. It really showed me how close the group is and I felt very privileged being allowed to listen to their stories and to be let into their worlds.

The Coffee House Club Member that I work with used to work as a home health aide with older adults, some of which had memory loss. Together her and I are complying a story of vignettes from her life experiences. Lately, my club partner and I have been reflecting on the idea that she has worked with older adults and that working with older adults is the career path I intend on entering. From this discussion, my Coffee House Club Member has been giving me work advice. I would like to share some of my Coffee House Club Member’s advice for working with older adults here: Be kind. Be pleasant. Treat them as if it is you in their situation. Keep a good attitude. Make a joke. Find out what they like. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Think of ways to make it simpler for her. Go with the flow. Be ready to be their friend.

~ Megan, School of Social Work Graduate Student, U of M

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

The following post is written by Jessica, a current study in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  Jessica and her Coffeehouse club member performed a lovely piano duet today at our end of the semester celebration.  It was a fantastic event!  Thank you to the faculty, staff, club members and students to make this course possible. ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

I am an Art & Design student at the University of Michigan. I mainly like to draw and paint, so when I signed up for this class I couldn’t have expected to end up meeting a Coffee House member who would rekindle my love for music and make me realize the amazing healing power music can have. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school I had taken piano lessons, but since coming to college I’ve only touched a piano to show off with a few measures of the only piece I can still remember how to play. Before this class, I had lost touch with how fun and rewarding it is to sit down at a piano and learn a piece, or even to listen to classical music.

During one session, we listened to playlists made specifically for the members. It really struck me when my community partner listened to his playlist and instantly entered what seemed to be such a happy state. We couldn’t think of the names of many of the pieces in the playlist, but my partner could hum them perfectly. The gaps between our generations seemed to close when we connected over our favorite composers. Music really seems to turn off any worries or frustrations, and throughout this class I think it has allowed us both to “zone out” and enjoy the creativity that goes into making beautiful music. I look forward to being able to share a musical performance together.

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

The following post is written by Rachel, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  Rachel reflects on the impact of the art sessions and working with the Coffeehouse Club members, one of the University of Michigan Geriatrics Center Mild Memory Loss Programs.  ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 

Living in the moment: that is a value I believe working with Coffeehouse club members has helped me build. I show up at Silver Club, maybe a little late, maybe a little tired, but worries about school and friends seem to slip away when the members walk into the room with their smiles and enthusiastic energy. We gather together to share stories, laughter, and craft. I see the interaction as a healing therapy for both student and member as we work together and enjoy the morning. I have seen little more things in my lifetime that are more beautiful than the club members sharing their wisdom or expressing their sense of accomplishment after creating these many projects. My club member and I worked on making a kite. Hopefully it is going to fly, but if it doesn’t it’s just as valuable because of what we took from the process of working together to create it, both teaching and learning from one another to accomplish our goal.

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

The following is a post written by Katie, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  Katie reflects on her collaborative experience with a Coffeehouse Club member. ~Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

I decided to take the class Memory, Aging, and Expressive Arts because I have always loved art and I’m interested in how it can transfer to different fields, like healthcare. Art had always been something I’ve done for myself, or occasionally with younger kids, but never with adults. I had never worked with or really ever known anyone with memory loss, so I was also interested to learn more about this and how creative expression could make an impact on their well-being.

As an art and design student, I spend a lot of time making art and being creative. However, with the pressure of classes and assignments it can often begin to feel more like work, which takes the fun out of something I love. Painting with my partner from the Coffeehouse Club has allowed me to gain a new appreciation for the value of the joy that can come from the experience of making art, having witnessed the transformative power of art in myself and in her. It gave me something to look forward to every week, and was always a fun way to relieve stress. After a somewhat tentative first few weeks, two of us and our other student group member really began to get into the project we had been working on, which was a collaborative watercolor painting. We would respond to what we saw each other working on, and discuss what was needed in certain parts of the painting to make it interesting and cohesive. The environment around our workspace always felt warm and accepting, and this really complimented the art making process. I went into this class with the intention of helping someone else, but I think that I got a lot more out of it myself than I expected. I hope that I can continue this positive mindset in my future creating art.


Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

The following is a post from Lauren, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  Lauren reflects on her weekly sessions with her Coffee House partner and the power of creativity.  ~ Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

I am not a morning person at all. From the outside, one might question why I signed up for a nine am class on Thursday and Fridays; however, to me, there was no questioning registering for Memory, Aging, and Expressive Arts. Combining my love for art and my love for helping people, I am on a path to become a Child and Art Therapist. Each Thursday, I am given the unique opportunity to help my community member use art as a form of expression.

As a Freshman from Texas, I am still adjusting to being so far away from my family. My grandma is one of my best friends, and missing her became a lot less horrible when I started working with my Coffee House member. The fun and games are never ending when we are together- we are trouble with a capital ‘T’ and everyone knows it. Each piece is another adventure, and each day brings a new story as well. We have bonded in ways that have surfaced memories I didn’t think could be accessed- but painting found them.

This experience has been like nothing before. The thought of finishing up and not spending my Thursday mornings with my member anymore makes me sad, but that’s how you know something’s been great. The lessons she has taught me, and the joy she makes me feel reminds me to never stop being creative. Art is clearly the best medicine of her week, and for me, her company is the best motivation for homework- one day closer to our next adventure together.

Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

The following post is written by Jenna, a current student in Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts.  Jenna reflects on a fun and imaginative conversation she had with one of the Coffeehouse Club members.~ Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

During a name exercise we were playing one of the members I was speaking with got off topic and we began talking about our ideal morphed animal. We went through combinations that would create the ultimate animal, the sight of a hawk, the speed of a cheetah, and the strength of a shark. But what if the animal was simply created for joy. We came up with the combination of a fuzzy rabbit and the sticky fingers of a frog. After the conversation, I started thinking about strengths even in the weakest animals. By focusing on the strengths a perfect animal can be formed out of any combination. The idea of the rabbit and the frog is similar to many of the members’ experiences by focusing on the strengths the weaknesses disappear.


Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts 2015

The following is a post from Natasha, a student in our Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts class. Natasha has been exploring photography with her Coffeehouse Club member and reflects on what she has learned.  ~ Anne Mondro, Professor of Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts

Hello, I am studying art and design at the University of Michigan. I chose to take this class after hearing wonderful things about it from my friends that had taken it. I did not expect it to change the way I think about things. Learning about memory loss has changed my perspective on so much. The speakers that have come in to talk to us have explained how finding solutions to things like funding and research for memory loss can be very difficult. It is a lot more complex than I had ever imagined. I have learned things ranging from the experiences of caregivers to the scientific details about memory loss. There is so much more to be done in helping deal with memory loss and educating people about it.

Collaborating with the Coffee House members is a perfect example of how effective being actively involved can improve the journey of those with memory loss. It is also a two way learning street. The way my partner approached our project has taught me how to utilize photography in a way that I never thought to. He taught me that it is good to take breaks from photos. This seems simple, but I had never done this and it has really helped me! Then being able to just sit and talk with Coffee House members makes me realize how at times we have so much in common, whether it be favorite places to visit or interests in art. One of my favorite things about working with my partner is learning that we are very similar in the way that we approach things with a frank mindset. We both like to have things straightforward and simple. This experience helps to close this gap between generations and changes my perspective on how I should handle future/current relationships. I can’t wait to continue working with my partner and seeing how our project turns out!