Practical resources to help family caregivers in the midst of caring for someone

How art museums are stimulating minds and supporting caregivers

One of the most beautiful things about art is not just the colour we see on a canvas, but the deep level of emotional connection and feeling it taps into. Art museums provide a space where everyone can come together to be inspired and challenged by art and creativity.

For caregivers, art programs also offer experiences to share that promote communication, enable emotional connection, and don’t require short term memory.

Galleries and museums have long held an instrumental role in providing opportunity and learning for everyone in their communities. As Canada’s population ages and people are dealing with various health challenges, galleries and museums across the country are increasingly tailoring programs to serve the needs of their communities.

The arts, in all of their forms, enrich our physical and mental health by allowing us to express ourselves and connect with others. Creativity challenges and stimulates our minds.

One extraordinary example is the documentary, “Alive Inside” which shows how much music can do for seniors whose memories and personalities are compromised by dementia. Most notably we see George, who won’t speak or even raise his head when asked his name. Once he is outfitted with an iPod playing songs he once loved, he comes back to life, talking freely and singing along to his music while in his wheelchair.

Programming to address memory loss and feelings of isolation or depression are some examples of how cultural and art institutions are providing programming that is meaningful for individuals and their caregivers.

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) is one of the partners in the Arts & Alzheimer’s program  offered through the We Rage We Weep Alzheimer Foundation. Activity listings can be found on the website including outings to the AGGV.

The Arts and Alzheimer’s program supports both those living at home with dementia and their caregivers, often a life partner or child. The program provides social experiences in an art or music setting geared towards the individuals living with dementia.

In 2013, the AGGV worked with Dr. Marjorie Moulton, Executive Director of We Rage We Weep, to specially train two of the AGGV’s volunteer tour guides. Individuals in the early and middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease visit the gallery with their caregivers and are engaged in lively discussion around a current exhibition, followed by hands-on creative activities.

“We work with We Rage We Weep to select exhibitions that will be particularly effective in encouraging engaged interaction from participants with dementia,” explains Michelle Jacques, Chief Curator at the AGGV.

“Most recently, they brought a group to see ‘Anna Banana: 45 Years of Fooling Around with A. Banana’. Anna Banana is a senior artist who was born in Victoria in 1940 and now lives on the Sunshine Coast. Her more than four decades long practice is premised in humour, social interaction, and the notion that everyone is creative. It was a particularly fitting exhibition for our art and Alzheimer’s program!”

At the Art Gallery of Ontario a program called Art in the Moment was developed in conjunction with the Toronto Alzheimer’s Society. The program consists of a monthly, hour-long gallery tour for up to twelve participants (visitors with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia and caregivers).

Trained gallery guides ask questions that focus on the experience, such as, “How does this painting make you feel?” They lead the group in discussions and reminiscing activities based on a variety of artworks. More information is available on the AGO Art in The Moment Tour page

In October 2015, the Art Gallery of Hamilton welcomed seniors with aphasia with a customized tour and art-making experience. SE Health Rehab’s Seniors Activation Maintenance Aphasia Program supports individuals affected by aphasia, a common language disorder caused by damage to the brain that is often experienced after a stroke.

Individuals affected by aphasia have full intelligence, but the condition causes difficulty for people to both understand and communicate language. This often causes feelings of isolation.

Similar to other gallery programs, AGH gallery docents and art instructors received special training from SE Health staff to communicate with the group members. Using simple language and gestures, flash cards, emphasizing words, and having visitors point to words on paper all effectively facilitated conversation.

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (AGNS) and the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia have come together to create an exciting art program for those with dementia and their caregivers, called “Artful Afternoon”.

This program offers participants a hands-on studio art experience and an opportunity to view original artworks in the gallery. Each month the program is inspired by a permanent collection exhibition or special exhibition. Led by an artist/art educator, the sessions are designed and facilitated in conjunction with staff and volunteers from AGNS and the Alzheimer Society to ensure the program best meets the needs of its participants.

The AGNS’s very successful “Autism Arts” program provides a range of visual art experiences for children and youth, ages 6 through teens, on the autism spectrum. For many children and youth on the spectrum, it can be challenging to find appropriately modified recreational programs.

Autism Arts includes Saturday art classes and an annual exhibition that provide a safe and supportive environment for participants to express themselves creatively.  An artist, hired through the gallery, works in collaboration with the Autism Support Coordinator from Autism Nova Scotia to facilitate the program. The coordinator ensures that a well-designed and stimulating art program is offered, including visits into the gallery to view artworks.

The set-up of the environment, including sensory needs, are very important. Art activities are broken down into smaller tasks suited for the participant’s needs, to maximize success.

“Many of these partnerships cross into various sectors of the community, with the goal to build high quality art experiences together for people of all ages who might not otherwise have access to such opportunities,” says Dale Sheppard, Curator of Education and Public Programs at the AGNS.

While art continues to be a living, vibrant means of shaping our perspective, so to do our art museums as they continually define their roles and accessibility.

While art continues to be a living, vibrant means of shaping our perspective, so to do our museums as they continually define their roles and accessibility. Museums are not just collections of objects, they are collections of people and their stories — visitors and their caregivers can look back and engage with these stories, and help to create new ones together looking forward.




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