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Connecting with the world through art

20th September 2021 | 3 mins
Art and dementia program

This year the theme of Dementia Action Week is "A little support makes a big difference” which highlights that people living with dementia can continue to live well for years after their diagnosis.

We support our residents living with dementia or cognitive impairment to live meaningful and happy lives in a number of ways. Self-expression plays a fundamental role in leading a meaningful life which is why we actively seek opportunities for our residents to express themselves in creative ways.

For nearly four years, our residents at Rutherford Park Care Community have participated in the Art and Dementia Program at the Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG).

The Art and Dementia program gives our residents living with dementia the opportunity to connect with the world in enriching and life-enhancing ways.

Sessions are held monthly (dependent on COVID-19 restrictions), and take place either at the gallery itself or at Rutherford Park Care Community. In these sessions, the program facilitator holds a discussion group based on several types of works.

During our visit in May, the facilitator focused on two bodies of work - a set of ceramic tiles and a set of paintings. Our residents were fascinated by the ceramic tiles display given their sizes, patterns and nature-inspired textures.

Another body of work entitled "Friends," was displayed in a dark room, representing the artist and his two friends. Our residents were able to distinguish the emotion of the subjects from the striking red and blue colours against the black outline of each portrait.

The MRAG's Art Express exhibition consists of 36 bodies of work which Year 12 students across New South Wales created for their 2020 HSC examinations. The exhibition represents a variety of expressive forms including graphic design, sculpture, fabrics, paintings and textiles. The display sparked thought provoking conversation between our residents with many in the group stating how impressed they were with the quality of the students' work.

After exploring the displays, our residents participated in a variety of art activities. In one activity, residents were asked to draw a snake using their impressions from the snakeskin inspired ceramic tile they saw earlier. In another, residents used pastels on a piece of paper with a raised pattern tile on the back; they enjoyed seeing the pattern appear on the page.

MRAG Rutherford Park

Each session in the program is unique and provides more opportunities for residents living with dementia to contribute their knowledge, engage in interpretation, express their emotions and even recall memories. Intellectual stimulation is just one of many positive outcomes. Group activity and shared conversation can also help our residents experience greater social inclusion.

Although the visit had come to an end that day, the excitement was far from over. "There was a definite chatter of positivity on the bus ride home and a general sense of happiness as residents held their prized pieces of art," says team member, Renae.

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