Using Art Therapy to Make Memories

In 2011, Heritage Homes, a ministry of The Lutheran Home Association that offers independent living, assisted living and memory care services in Watertown, WI started working together with the Alzheimer’s Association to offer Memories in the Making®, an art program that encourages creative and artistic expression for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Creating art has become an important and enjoyable activity for those who are unable to communicate well verbally. It becomes the voice used to powerfully express their thoughts, emotions and memories. The goal of Memories in the Making is to offer an emotionally safe environment with positive reinforcement that allows people with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias to reach outside their world. By providing this outlet, they find a new way to express themselves and reminisce with past memories. Program coordinators assist the painter in sharing their story about the artwork they’ve created.

One resident in particular has taken to the program, and the influence it’s had on her is obvious.

memories in the making (1)Bernice Collupy has always loved painting and drawing. Now, as a participant in the Memories in the Making program at Heritage Homes, she is able to share her memories through her art.

“You can really see the sense of accomplishment on her face when she paints,” said Ashley Haines, social events coordinator at Heritage Homes. “Sometimes she is quiet and withdrawn before starting a painting, but she takes off once she starts telling a story and really opens up.”

Last spring, Bernice was proud to have one of her pieces sell for over $140 at the Heritage Homes art auction, where proceeds went to benefit the Heritage Homes Memory Care program. A piece of her artwork was also selected to be in an art auction event in Milwaukee, WI that benefited the Alzheimer’s Association.

At the end of each Memories in the Making session, residents share their art with each other and give one another positive reinforcement and feedback. When Bernice finishes a painting, she enjoys looking back at it several weeks later and admiring her work. She is able to recall each one and reminisce about what it means to her. Even the staff at Heritage Homes has noticed how Bernice seems to be more relaxed and calm following a Memories in the Making session.

“It’s wonderful to watch the residents interact and share their artwork with each other, revealing their life stories to each other through their artwork,” Haines said. “There’s no pressure to remember, but this opens the door for them to allow past experiences to come out.”