Charles Martin, or “Marty” as many know him, has never been much of an artistic person. A life-long sports enthusiast, fan and participant, Marty had an eye for sports and writing, and these passions would deliver him the promotion of a lifetime. He became a night news sports editor at Newsday, putting him in charge of the copy desk which was under nightly pressure to meet deadlines with both punctuality and perfection. After a fruitful career no one predicted that Marty would be diagnosed with dementia. As it progressed it became clear that Marty was not able to read a paper anymore, nor does he care about watching television sports for any length of time. These days he will watch tidbits of Yankee games with his wife, Pat, and he has recently dabbled in art therapy. Artistic skills run in the family and though he and Pat have always had an appreciation for art, Marty was never one to pick up a pen or paintbrush to let his creativity flow. After moving into Garden View at Woodland Pond, the memory care neighborhood in the senior living community, Pat thought it would be helpful for Marty to explore the art and music programs to see if they might engage him on a different level. Though Pat lives in an apartment in independent living, she spends much of her time with Marty attending therapeutic classes focused on the arts and music.
“At first, Marty wanted nothing to do with the art therapy classes and would simply leave the room when the therapeutic art instructor, Michelle Eddison, began,” said Pat. “I never pressured him to stay, so I would do something else with him. In time, Marty actually stayed to see what was going on. During one session, Michelle brought bendable wire for us to experiment with, and some ladies started making jewelry. Others were fascinated by how malleable the wire was and had fun bending it into new shapes. Marty pushed his wire over at me and said ‘you do it.’ So I bent it into a shape and passed it back to him. We started this little back and forth game and when we stopped I noticed he was intrigued by what others around us were doing with the wires. He was content watching them.”
Recently, Eddison brought a large collection of photos, images and clippings for residents to create collages to hang on their doors. This was a part of the Family Collaborative Art Project, and family members were encouraged to attend and participate with their loved one. During this project, Eddison assisted residents individually, helping them choose those pictures that reflected their lives. Marty’s collage features a picture of a large tiger cat, baseball images and a cartoon of three kids jumping in the waves at the beach. Pat explained that Marty once rescued a cat and kept it, served as a sports editor for lengthy period of time and that they took their kids to the beach to camp each summer when they were out of school. All of these images spoke to him and conjured up old memories. Oftentimes those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia lose the ability to verbalize their feelings, memories and ideas, so therapists look to other outlets to aid with communication and expression.
“One of the most heartwarming moments for me was when Woodland Pond welcomed young students from a local church into the community to help residents plant flowers and paint the clay pots,” said Pat. “I’ve found that seniors in memory care really connect with younger children. On this day Marty painted his pot and chose the flower he wanted planted in it and put it in his bedroom. When our 14-year-old grandchild visited, he showed it to her so she could see what he had made. He was extremely proud of his pot and plant. It touched me to see that flicker of pride and happiness in his face. When she came back for another visit to celebrate Father’s Day, she brought a bigger clay pot with a heart she had painted on it as a gift for him. She was inspired to create a similar pot, a gift she knew he would like. These little moments are extremely meaningful when the disease has progressed this far.”
Each resident is unique and each is stimulated by different materials, environments and activities, so Eddison plans a variety of projects for them. Marty may not always participate, but he does enjoy watching others.
“This disease returns those affected by it to a childlike state. It’s important to engage seniors living with Alzheimer’s or dementia and encourage them to do stimulating activities that improve their quality of life,” surmised Pat. “Culture and art have always been an integral part of our lives. Some of our family members are in the art field, and Marty and I have a genuine appreciation and fascination with different styles of artwork from a broad range of cultures. Growing up, Marty was a drummer in grade school, high school and college. While Marty studied journalism at Northwestern he also played in symphony and marching band and was in a dance band. He has a real passion for music, favoring jazz and swing. It is uplifting for him. He enjoys those occasions when musicians and musical therapists come to play and get the residents involved with items from their rhythm baskets. It’s inspiring to see him so happy and stimulated by the group activities.”
Marin Lott, health center activities coordinator for Woodland Pond, initiated many of the art and music programs for the healthcare services division. She enjoys coordinating an annual art show and collaborating with Eddison on the various art projects throughout the year. They are always on the lookout for projects and methods to fit the changing needs of Garden View residents. Each week Eddison coordinates large displays of the artwork in the Garden View dining room to showcase everyone’s work. The team members and residents’ loved ones hope that seeing the displays sparks some sort of memory for the residents.
On August 24 at 2:00 p.m., Garden View will host its third annual Art Show in the Woodland Pond Health Center Great Room. The showcase will feature artwork created by residents from both Skilled Nursing and Garden View who participate in art therapy. The art show was conceived to celebrate everyone’s artwork and instill a sense of pride and accomplishment in what they have done throughout the year. The showcase is open to the public, and it is sure to inspire all who attend. The theme of the art showcase is “When a Seed Turns into a Garden.”
“We have to learn to accept them for who they are now, even though it can be so hard when we remember how they once were,” said Pat. “We don’t know what goes on in their minds most of the time, and it would seem that they are in their own world. It’s a world that we have a hard time reaching or grasping, but through music and art we are still able to communicate and express. The thing I love about Woodland Pond’s approach to memory care is that the staff is focused on providing personal care, and they do that by addressing everyone by name and showing them the utmost respect. It is so important to preserve their dignity. I can say with full confidence that I feel that I made the right decision by moving Marty into Garden View. Every night when I go to bed, I know he is getting the best care and quality of life, and that this is what is best for me, too.”
“Over the years, I have seen people who are unable to articulate their feelings convey their emotions and struggles through their art,” said Lott. “During art therapy, we focus more on the process than the finished product. This opens people up to explore, experiment, and just have fun. Some residents have never had involvement with art supplies during their lives, and after a few sessions they are experimenting with colors, shapes and textures and commenting on each other’s work. Each person is different. Some enjoy participating in a group, and others enjoy doing art projects individually. If an art class is being held when families visit, they usually join in on the fun. Art bridges the barriers that Alzheimer’s creates and gives families a way to reconnect by working together on a project. These are things that make life enjoyable. Together we create a sense of community, a joyful atmosphere, and feelings of accomplishment and pride from creating something beautiful.”