March 31, 2013

Memories in the Making Art Show & Auction

Pointing to the green and black figure on the white paper, Bud smiled, explaining that the figure was an alligator and the other green oblong shapes were snakes.

“I went there,” Bud said. “Alligators and snakes…that’s what, yeah, did that.”

“You worked for John Deere?” asked Amy Iams, program nurse at Intouch Adult Day Services of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois and an Alzheimer’s Association Memories in the Making facilitator. “You went to New Orleans to work on John Deere tractors?”

His eyes glowed with pride acknowledging her questions as he added the words, “engines and tractors and wires” to Amy’s questions. Bud’s painting and short exclamations spoke volumes about a part of his life that is locked in his memory due to dementia. Making memories and recalling them is one of the most basic human functions. People like Bud with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, lose the ability to make new memories and recall the most precious aspects of their lives, however. Their memories fade and the parts of their lives that were once a source of pride and happiness are trapped as they lose the ability to communicate verbally.

Painting has become a second language for Bud, enabling him to “speak” through the water colors and share his memories with others through the Alzheimer’s Association’s Memories in the Making Program. Facilitators, like Amy, work along side the “artist,” asking open-ended questions and taking notes about what is being said. Later those notes will be used while talking to family members who can fill in the rest of the story.

The process opens opportunities to learn more about the person, helping caregivers “see” the person instead of the disease.

Started in 1988, Memories in the Making utilizes a variety of art media, such as water color and collage, to assist in engaging people with dementia in the process of communicating thoughts and feelings through the visual arts. It allows them to use their art and often their few remaining words to share what is in their thoughts. Intouch and more than a dozen other facilities throughout the Quad-Cities use the program to provide a voice to those in their care.

Painting allows memories to come through parts of the brain untouched by the disease. Research has shown that the artistic and expressive talents of those suffering from dementia can remain intact even in advanced stages of the disease.

Memories in the Making is not a traditional arts and crafts class. Instead it follows the philosophy of “person centered care,” focusing on the individual rather than the disease or diagnosis. Facilitators build on the individual’s strength, not their losses. Research has shown that supportive, structured non-pharmalogical programs like Memories in the Making are effective ways to treat dementia by enhancing a sense of well-being for moments at a time.

Naomi Perry, unit director and Memories in the Making facilitator at Rock Island Nursing and Rehabilitation, has been involved in the program since it was introduced in the Quad-Cities three years ago, said the program has changed the lives of many of her residents by opening up the lines of communication.

“Residents who were unable to express themselves can now communicate through their art,” Naomi said. “Behaviors go from manic to docile and calm. When people are unable to express their feelings and thoughts, they become frustrated and agitated. Expression is good for everyone…if you can’t express, you will explode.”

Mindy Dodd, Memory Care Program Director at Senior Star in Davenport, agreed that Memories in the Making has been a wonderful addition.

“It brings smiles not only to the residents making the beautiful pieces of art, but also to those helping them along,” Mindy said.

Sandy Winborn, a local artist who volunteers her time to work with Senior Star residents on their art, offers advice on how to use the paintbrush correctly and what colors might look good together.

“With her help and encouragement the residents feel confident in their works and look forward to seeing her at the next session,” Mindy said. “That confident feeling stays with them the rest of the day. They may not remember in the afternoon the great piece of art they created that morning, but they still feel confident in themselves and have smiles on their faces the rest of the day.”

Confidence and smiles, communication and memories create a vital connection between people with dementia and others, helping give meaning and quality to their lives.

Their artwork and their stories also help in the fight against Alzheimer’s through a once a year celebration and community sharing. This year, 15 framed water colors from participating agencies’ artists will be selected for the Alzheimer’s Association Memories in the Making Art Auction set for Friday, May 3 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. Event sponsors include Cumulus Broadcasting, Lighthouse Homecare and Senior Star.

The evening will include the art auction, Hors d’œuvres and music by Ellis Kell and Tony Hoeppner. In addition to the auction of featured framed paintings, artist’s note cards and unframed water colors will be available. Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 at the door and can be purchased online at or by calling Bill Horrell at the Alzheimer’s Association in Davenport, (563) 324-1022.

The public is encouraged to attend and help celebrate the memories, art and lives of those living with dementia, as well as joining the fight against Alzheimer’s. This year’s goal is to raise $40,000, according to Bill. About 80 percent of the money raised goes to
services and research.

“It’s more than just a fund raiser,” Bill said. “It’s a partnership between the agencies who have embraced the program, not just for the auction but as a year round activity. It’s rewarding to provide a program that benefits people with dementia and their caregivers. It is so heartwarming to see the faces of our artists and the stories behind the paintings.”

This year’s Memories in the Making artist contributers are from: Heartland Health Care Moline, Davenport Lutheran Home, Grand Haven Retirement, Ridgecrest Village, Bickford of Moline, Senior Star, Rock Island Nursing and Rehab, Bickford of Davenport, Intouch Adult Day and Home Care Services of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, Country Manor Memory Care.