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Sitting among tables filled with paints, palettes and crinkled paper soaked in the efforts of their brushes, seniors living with dementia seem somewhat content with the art they create every week at Clifton Manor Continuing Care Centre. But the youths who sit down with them, connect with them and guide them as part of the Opening Minds Through Art program bring them a joy that is unrivalled.
“She’s like my second grandma actually,” says Justice Moore, a Grade 12 student at Jack James High School in Forest Lawn. “We have a lot of fun together, we talk to each other, we learn from each other. It feels like we’re family.”
Elizabeth Street, who’s been diagnosed with dementia but still lives at home with a partner, covers her face modestly and wipes a tear from her eye.
“I don’t really like art that much,” she says, keeping her eyes on her painting. “I just like coming here and being with Justice.”
The Calgary Board of Education is partnering with the Brenda Strafford Foundation through the intergenerational art program, which brings students together with adults living with dementia and other neuro-cognitive disorders. The failure-free activities challenge the perception of dementia and educate through the reality of what clients can do, rather than focus on what they cannot.
Students from Jack James High School have spent this school year volunteering their time to participate in an adult day program at Clifton Manor, working with adults in the early stages of dementia and still living at home with partners or caregivers.
Pam Blake, off-campus co-ordinator with the school, says the program is perfect for students at Jack James — a unique high school for students with behavioural challenges, family origin issues, and learning disabilities.
“Other schools ask students ‘why are you behaving like this?’ but we ask them ‘what happened to you?’ These kids know what it feels like to be marginalized, but it is the same with dementia patients. They feel marginalized, too, and our kids really relate to that.”
The art program not only gives students a sense of purpose and responsibility, Blake says, but they learn to develop strategies that allow them to communicate better with seniors, like a student last semester who pretended she was a bank teller to motivate her senior to be more creative.
“They learn empathy not just for the seniors but for their own teachers, who also have to look for unique strategies to connect with them.”
Several Jack James students are already planning post-secondary studies in health-care, psychology and working with people with disabilities, Blake added.
Jackie Whipple, recreational therapist at Clifton Manor, explained that while dementia patients often struggle with memory loss they are more likely to recall the positive emotions experienced through a program like Opening Minds Through Art.
“They feel really valued, they want to connect with these students and they look forward to them coming every week.”
This week marked the last art project of the semester, with an final art show planned for next Tuesday at Clifton Manor. For more information call 587-952-6037.
Source: Written by Eva Ferguson (Post Media). Calgary Herald - Published Monday, May 2, 2018 4:38 PM