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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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ELCA senior living sparks imaginations

Art and drama programs help those with Alzheimer's and dementia share their memories

Joe Davis, who has Alzheimer's, was initially opposed to adult day services in Salisbury, N.C. His neurologist told his wife and caregiver, Mary, to try "Art for the Soul," the creative engagement program at Abundant Living Adult Day Services. So in 2011, Joe began taking photography, painting, sculpture and creative writing classes.

"Art for the Soul is about the process of creating, not the product," said Barbara Garwood, executive director of ELCA-affiliated Abundant Living. It's perfect for people with memory issues since "a positive emotion stays with you longer than the memory of what you did," she added.

The play Finding Penelope  demonstrates
The play Finding Penelope demonstrates the cohesive effects of improv at Luther Manor in Wauwatosa, Wis.

"Joe loves it," Mary agreed, proudly describing his artwork in their kitchen and even at a local gallery. "And for me it's a relief. It gives me three days when I don't have to worry if he's OK, if he's going to fall or what he wants. I know he's happy and doing new things."

Funded by small grants from national and local sources, most courses involve six 90-minute sessions. During the course, staff learn how to sustain the program and, in turn, teach artists how to work with people who have dementia. "We tell artists to meet people where they are, to let them do their own work, and to not try to change what people think of as reality ... even if they think it is 1942," Garwood said.


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