Submitted by Lutheran Community Services Northwest.
“The sessions always start with a song,” Bernie says with a grin on her face. Her husband, Dick, smiles too, because that’s the effect they have on us.
“What song?” I ask.
“Usually ‘This little light of mine,’” and we all smile again because the song is perfect.
It is Tuesday morning and I am speaking with Bernie and Dick over Zoom about participating in Lutheran Community Services Northwest’s Opening Minds through Art (OMA) classes. When arranging this interview, Bernie suggested we do it over a video call, as Dick is losing his language skills. That way his facial expressions can tell a story.
“The songs are very fun,” Dick says after a short pause as his smile broadens with the memory.
Dick has dementia. More than 6 million people in the U.S. are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. That’s roughly 1 in 9 Americans over the age of 65. Dementia’s causes are varied and not fully understood. People diagnosed with dementia experience a progression of symptoms. They lose things such as language skills, short term memory and their independence. While this condition isn’t curable (yet), several studies show that art therapy services like OMA will enrich the lives of people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s, while giving them confidence and a sense of purpose.
“Dick really likes having something to look forward to,” Bernie explains, “He can’t do some things, but he can do this.”
One of the beauties of OMA is that participants can be like Dick, who has no background in art. He was a wastewater engineer. “ I’ve always built things,” he said, “ But I’ve never painted before; never taken any art class.”
You’d never guess it looking at Dick’s vibrant paintings hanging in their kitchen. Beautiful swaths of color dancing over the canvas like light through a prism. Poignant compositions that are ripe with intent and meaning.
“Laurie and Maria make it really easy,” Dick says, humbly. Bernie smiles, nods her head.
“They’re really great teachers,” Bernie adds.
It works like this:
Laurie and Maria do non-contact drop off supplies to participants: paints, brushes and canvases. Classes are held by Zoom in the pandemic. Laurie and Maria lead the class. They start with a song. Then they create art. They express themselves with a brush in hand. Maria and Laurie guide students and offer assistance.
“They’re really good at being helpful and encouraging,” Dick says. Art has gone beyond classes and has become a family thing.
Bernie laughs to herself and says “Sometimes the grandkids come over and we recreate the classes with them. We all paint together.”
When pressed with the question what’s his favorite part about art classes, Dick became serious. He struggled, but spoke deliberately.
“I think I will pass on the artwork that I have done.” he says, “Everyone seems to like it. But another thing is that…” Dick closes his eyes.“ I put names on all the things. I named one of them: ‘lemon tree’ and people looked at my picture and they said, ‘Wow! It’s a lemon tree’.”
Bernie nods, smiles, and says, “Dick grew up in Southern California. Lemon trees are from his childhood. Learn more by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.