A few weeks ago I told you about a new initiative of VSA Texas involving older adults and art. We are really excited about everything that has been happening with Mobile Art and the new people we are serving. We know the arts have restorative powers, and provide opportunities for expressing your creativity, contemplative thinking, relationship building, and just plain fun!
In early June, I had the pleasure of attending a Dementia & Museums Symposium at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. I’ll admit it. I am kind of a conference geek. Especially when I have the opportunity to meet people who are passionate and committed to their cause. And yes, I was surrounded by museum staff from across the country who are running great programs for folks with early memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. I learned that, “it’s about living in the moment and going on a journey, together” (thank you Jane Tygesson). I learned that people are care partners, not care givers. What a respectful way to refer to people who may have been together for decades, and are still together, just in a different way.
Damon McLeese, a colleague and friend who runs Access Gallery in Denver, was the keynote speaker. He provided a great foundation for the next three days as he explained how he works with young people with disabilities through his gallery programming. However, in the past year, he has expanded his programs to offer “Granny Does Graffiti,” a mural project that matches older adults with dementia with a Denver-based graffiti artist – so cool! And what we can learn about each other when given a way in through art. Staff of the care center where these adults stay are learning new things about the former lives of their clients, thereby opening a window into new ways of helping and being together.
Duke University has a Medical School conducting some groundbreaking research into Alzheimer’s. On the last morning, Dr. Kathleen Welsh-Bohmer, PhD and Director of the Joseph and Kathleen Bryan Alzheimer’s Center at Duke shared some latest statistics on the disease. She laid out seven steps for people to follow to help reduce the risk of developing early memory loss or dementia. These steps are not earth-shattering, but worth repeating.
|At the Sarah P Duke Gardens, a circle of large human like forms constructed from branches cut from trees on the campus, sits in the middle of a large field.|
Patrick Dougherty, The Big Easy 2017
Step 1. Change your mindset. Ageism is rampant in our society. Many older adults are responsible for maintaining their health and continuing to contribute to society. Expect more from yourself than others may expect. Here is another way to think about changing your mindset about growing older and living longer: disability is something that you are living with; disease is something that you are dying from; Alzheimer’s is just an accelerated process of what we will all eventually go through.
Step 2. Treat what can be treated. Curb your smoking and alcohol habits. Manage your medical conditions. Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, thyroid disease, sleep disorders, arthritis, anxiety, and depression can all be contributing factors to changes in the brain.
Step 3. Get physically active. Aerobic, resistance training, daily 15-20 minute walks. These are all good. And mix it up a bit with gardening, raking leaves, or taking the stairs.
|I took Kathleen’s advice and walked around the Duke campus after her talk. A long stone building with arches and dormer windows houses the Duke Divinity School.|
Step 4. Watch what you eat. And that doesn’t mean looking at yourself in the mirror. A Mediterranean diet is really good for you. Limit your sugar and salt intake. Eat carrots, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, and salmon.
Step 5. Work your brain. Engage in new ways of thinking. Do ART! Studies have shown that art activities – visual, music, dancing, theater – stimulate the brain and help to reduce risk. A small study from Newcastle on Tyne in England broke individuals into three groups: one group did puzzles, one went on walks, the third took art classes. You won’t be surprised to learn the art class participants reported the highest level of satisfaction and continued to participate after the study was concluded. What did the study reveal? Social engagement and a challenging, new activity resulted in a sense of mastery and accomplishment.
Step 6. Stress reduction and caring for your emotional health. SLEEP. Know how many hours of sleep you need per day and try to maintain it. Anywhere between 6.5 and 9.5 is considered within the range. Also social engagement, outdoor activities, pet therapy – I have cats. It works – meditation, yoga. You don’t have to do all of these things. Just try one. And, of course, sleep.
|Lotus flowers in the gardens open to the warm spring sun.|
Step 7. Be part of the solution. This one comes directly from Dr. Welse-Bohmer. Participate in research to help add to the body of knowledge being tested and shared.
The summer program of Mobile Art is with older adults and their care partners at home. In partnership with Family Eldercare, we will deliver art supplies and instructions to folks who no longer leave their homes and then work with them over the phone to complete six diverse art projects. Theresa Zelazny, founder of Mobile Art, developed the lessons and we look forward to getting to know our newest friends. Stay tuned!