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Recoloring the Effects of Memory Loss

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You have more than 100 billion brain cells. These cells are networked with groups of other cells so you can do important things like taste, hear, reason, and remember. When one part of a cell can’t do its job, it affects the entire operation. Damage caused by Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, can lead to irreversible changes in the brain, and impairs a person’s ability to do basic, necessary activities such as swallowing, talking and walking.

At The Springs Living, we care for people living with dementia, and part of our mission is to enrich their daily lives.  With the help of an amazing program called Memories in the Making, our residents with memory challenges, are learning to sketch and paint with watercolors as a way to stimulate brain cells.

There’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but Memories in the Making has been proven to be beneficial and therapeutic. More than a traditional arts and crafts class, professional artists and specially trained facilitators focus participants on the creation of something colorful and beautiful, so they experience moments of joy and accomplishment instead of the failure, loss and frustration that is all too common among people living with dementia.

Through their art sessions, our residents can improve self-esteem, increase attention span, express emotion, and reduce isolation. Brittnie Johnson, who oversees life enrichment for residents of Footsteps® Memory Care at The Springs at Tanasbourne, helps facilitate the program. She gets things rolling by providing an inspirational theme for each painting session. The conversations that arise as they begin to sketch are part of the magic.

Ninety-seven year old June Maas painted “Dancing Starfish” while she talked about times she and her husband took their daughters to the beach to run and play in the sand.

Sometimes a particular color will spark a memory, as it did for Edda Allen who painted “Purple Petunia” while talking about her favorite outfit when she was 5 or 6 years old — purple leggings, purple top and purple coat. She remembers adoring this outfit, which doesn’t surprise her friends because Edda has been known to wear purple from head to toe at The Springs at Tanasbourne.

“In later stages of dementia and memory loss, participants in the program may forget from week to week that they enjoy painting, and that they are actually pretty good at it,” stated Brittnie. “They are unfamiliar with their abilities until they sit down with a sheet of blank paper each week and start to sketch and paint.”

Four paintings from among our residents at The Springs at Tanasbourne were selected to be auctioned off at the Alzheimer’s Association Memories in the Making Gala Fundraising event on April 30, 2015. Edda donated “Purple Petunia” and June provided “Dancing Starfish” and “Life in a Desert.” Virginia “Holly” Wentworth donated “Sun.” These four art pieces brought in $3,150. All in all there were about 50 donated pieces for the Gala event and auction yielding more than $60,000 to help fund the art program in Oregon.