Painting gives people with Alzheimer’s a joyful outlet

  • Seniors at Westmeath work on their art pieces for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Seniors at Westmeath work on their art pieces for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

  • Iris Kempe works on an art piece at Westmeath for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Iris Kempe works on an art piece at Westmeath for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

  • Seniors at Westmeath work on their art pieces for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Seniors at Westmeath work on their art pieces for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

  • Seniors at Westmeath work on their art pieces for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Seniors at Westmeath work on their art pieces for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

  • Seniors at Westmeath work on their art pieces for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Seniors at Westmeath work on their art pieces for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

  • Edna Perinchief works on an art piece at Westmeath for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Edna Perinchief works on an art piece at Westmeath for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

  • Artist and teacher Kendra Earls oversees Alfred Jennings as he works on an art piece at Westmeath for the upcoming exhibition and documentary to be held at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Artist and teacher Kendra Earls oversees Alfred Jennings as he works on an art piece at Westmeath for the upcoming exhibition and documentary to be held at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

  • Marilyn Glyn-Jones works on an art piece looked on by Joan Dawson at Westmeath for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)

    Marilyn Glyn-Jones works on an art piece looked on by Joan Dawson at Westmeath for an upcoming exhibition. (Photo by Mark Tatem)


A new arts programme geared to senior citizens with Alzheimer’s and dementia is proving that you are never too old to enjoy making art.

On Monday morning at Westmeath Residential and Nursing Care Home senior citizens arrange tissue paper shapes across a page. Some trace simple circles around the shapes and some turn their work into a colourful galaxy. Some paint the paint box in front of them or the table. All of them appear to be having a great time.

These artists are clients at Westmeath Residential and Nursing Care Home and take part in a weekly art class offered to all clients at the residence. Many, but not all, of the participants have Alzheimer’s and dementia, a group of people once thought too far gone to participate in art.

Work from the art class at Westmeath and a similar one at the Matilda Smith Williams Seniors Residence will be on display at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI) on Sunday, at the showing of the film “I Remember Better When I Paint”, a documentary about the benefits of art for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The film is narrated by Olivia de Havilland of “Gone with the Wind” movie fame. The film and art lessons have been arranged by the charity Action on Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and began last April.

When Mr Jennings was asked if he is excited that his work will be featured in an art show he was dismissive.

“I’m not really interested in that,” he said. It was a sentiment echoed by his classmates. For them the joy was in the process; nobody was painting to get their work hung in a gallery.

There’s a lady next to him that is painting her paint box green, very carefully.

“It is magical,” laughed Chrissie Kempe, administrator at Westmeath. “The canvas is never big enough for them. From the perspective of engagement they have really let loose since we started doing this. In the beginning they were a little nervous. It took a lot of coaxing. Now they are itching to go and often start without us.”

The art programme at Westmeath received funding this year from the 2013 Catlin End to End walk. The money from that has gone towards purchasing art supplies.

Millicent Washington of Westmeath said she was new to art.

“I didn’t do much art when I was young, because I didn’t have time,” she said. “I do look forward to the class every week. It is nice meeting people.”

Some of the clients have never done any artwork before in their lives and for others, art was an old friend once thought lost forever. While most of the clients paint with their work on the table in front of them, resident Glyn Jones paints on a canvas propped on an easel. In front of her is a little scrap of paper with a photo of a Russian onion domed building.

“I started painting when I was about 40,” she said. “One day my son was playing tennis near a park. There was a woman inside the park giving lessons on painting. He came home and told me about her because he knew I loved painting. She lived about a block away from me so it was very nice.”

As Mrs Jones got older and moved into Westmeath she stopped painting. The art classes rekindled her passion. Her son went out and bought her a lovely art box with paints and brushes. Now, she often paints even when the class isn’t in session. On the day we met Mrs Jones she was in a hurry with her painting because she wanted to watch Wimbledon.

She said she got a little frustrated sometimes, because her art is not what it once was, but she loved having the creative outlet.

The classes are taught by artist Kendra Earls who also teaches therapeutic art classes and classes for children in the community.

“The seniors in this class learn how to work with water colours,” said Ms Earls. “They enjoy it. It is relaxing and it stimulates their creativity. Over time you see them becoming more comfortable with the painting. Sometimes they want to do it but they are very hesitant so I will help them out.”

Some of the residents find it therapeutic just to watch Ms Earls paint. Then they go in and start dabbling at the page themselves.

“It is not much different teaching older people in this group to teaching toddlers,” said Ms Earls. “The motor skills become basically the same. I am trying to help build up their motor skills. Toddlers will eventually progress and the senior citizens in this class will eventually become consistent.”

Ms Kempe said some of the artists paint definite pictures while others don’t know what they are making and don’t care.

“Some people just enjoy making lines on the paper,” she said. “They like the colours. It is the only activity I have ever really seen them throw themselves into fully.”

Activities coordinator Cheree Wade said the residents probably enjoyed working with water colours the most, but had also enjoyed working with stamps and foam cut outs. Westmeath eventually hopes to make a calendar out of the residents’ work and use the money to help Westmeath, which is a registered charity.

Ms Stewart said she decided to start the art classes after seeing the documentary that will be shown on Sunday.

“I thought it would be fantastic to get this into Bermuda,” she said.

She would eventually like to set up a place in the community where seniors who are living at home can come out and also experience art.

“It is just so therapeutic to people,” she said. “They do it all over the world. It would be really nice to expand it to other care homes in Bermuda. It is not difficult to set up. Once they have the materials they can do it every day. I would definitely encourage people to come and see the movie, particularly people who work with senior citizens. It will really inspire a lot of people to get it going.”

She wanted people to understand that even someone who is non-verbal can still enjoy art.

“They can communicate through other means,” she said. “I want to promote it in the community so people can see the benefits. Matilda Smith Williams loved the idea. We were doing one day there and they wanted us to do another day as well.”

She said at one of the nursing homes, nurses thought some of the patients would not be able to enjoy the art at all. Ms Earls got these clients to the table, and they started to take part.

“The nurses were really surprised,” said Ms Stewart. “It shows that you shouldn’t write people off too early and we should encourage people and give them activities. We should not assume they can’t do things when they are still capable of doing a lot.”

The movie will be on Sunday, June 30, at 4pm. Tickets are $10, available from Ms Stewart. For more information telephone her at 538-5494 or e-mail alzbermuda@yahoo.com.

Proceeds from the event will go to the art programme.

For more information and a trailer see www.irememberbetterwhenipaint.com and www.alzbermuda.com .

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Published Jun 26, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Jun 25, 2013 at 6:54 pm)

Painting gives people with Alzheimer’s a joyful outlet

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