“Memories in the Making”: Art Facilitator Training

This summer the ATAS team had the honor and pleasure of attending a “Memories in the Making” Art Facilitator Training. Developed by Selly Jenny in 1988, “Memories in the Making” is the signature art program of Alzheimer’s Orange County for people with dementia that focuses on creative expression as a form of communication. Today, “Memories in the Making” is offered in over 20 U.S. states and 4 countries.

“It is my observation that individuals who are given a way of expressing their feelings experience lessen anxiety and have a greater peace of mind” -Sam Heinly

At our art facilitator training, we learned about how to recognize the symptoms of dementia, the history of the program, research that supports the benefits of art therapy, the principles and techniques of compassionate communication, and how to start and conduct “Memories in the Making” classes.

The Artist

An important goal of this program is to improve the self-esteem of participants. As such, participants are never referred to as “patients”, but as “artists”. Each artist still has precious memories and emotions, but may have difficulty expressing themselves, resulting in agitation. However, art can serve as a creative outlet for emotions and it is up to the art facilitator to ensure that artists receive the respect and validation that they deserve.

The Role of the Art Facilitator

Flexibility is crucial when facilitating “Memories in the Making” classes. The role of the art facilitator is to make connections with the artists. Art facilitators should provide a safe and welcoming environment, employ person-oriented care, adapt the activity for each artist, encourage reminiscing, and most importantly, use warmth and humor.

When it comes to engaging artists, is is important to find the right inspiration. Art facilitators can sketch shapes with a pencil, load the brush with paint, guide the brush to paper, or even paint side-by-side. However, art facilitators should never physically paint for the artist. We also learned in training that engagement without painting is also okay, as even the act of attending class offers an opportunity to socialize.

Art & the Brain

The more brain exercises you do, the better. According to Dr. William Shankle, program director of Memory & Cognitive Disorders at the Hoag Neurosciences Institute, research shows that creative activity activates more circuits than any other because connections in the brain grow like any muscle.

Older adults who created art reported better health outcomes as well. In a 2001 study conducted by Dr. Gene Cohen, 150 seniors who undertook artistic endeavors were less lonely and depressed than the 150 individuals who did not participate in such an activity. More importantly, the elder artists also fell less often, visited their doctors fewer times, and consumed fewer medications than their uninvolved counterparts.

“Memories in the Making” Classes

From stimulating the brain, increasing verbal fluency, to providing an outlet for self-expression, there are multiple benefits for program participants. “Memories in the Making” classes can also provide an opportunity to involve family members by sharing the artist’s work and stories with their loved ones, creating an art exhibit for residents and guests to enjoy, and inviting family and friends to participate in an art session.

“The Lone Cactus” by Norma Kramer, a “Memories in the Making” artist

If you are interested in starting and conducting “Memories in the Making” classes, it is important to take note of the art supplies required. The quality of the art supplies directly affects the outcome of the art and does make a difference. Using the supplies recommended, the average start-up cost for supplies for 10 people is $120. You can find the recommended art supply list here.

I, along with the rest of the ATAS team, truly believe in the meaningful work the “Memories in the Making” program does. Despite the language decline due to the disease, there is something very special and beautiful about the quiet dignity that art provides to those suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Check out important work that “Memories in the Making” does below and visit their website for more information.

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