Critter Corner: Smithsonian Program Brings Art to Seniors with Dementia

Dear Angel,

I am a caregiver for my mother, Carrie, who has dementia. She has always loved art and I have noticed that when she looks at a painting, she starts expressing herself. Are there any art programs in the area that I can take her to? Thanks so much for your help!

Art Formamma

Dear Art,

Art and music are enjoyable and effective for many who have Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. According to Ruth Drew, Director of Family and Information Services for the Alzheimer’s Association, “(s)tructured art programs help to give people with dementia good moments, good hours and good days. When people are engaged and supported, they probably sleep better, are less anxious, less depressed. The experience carries over to the rest of the day.” And, as Drew puts it, the goal is “happy humans.”

Smithsonian’s See Me Program is a Local Interactive Art Program

There is a great program similar to what you are describing, that is meeting virtually via Zoom and will possibly be meeting in person again at the Smithsonian Museums starting in the fall.

See Me at the Smithsonian is an interactive program for adults with dementia and their caregivers. The See Me program lets those with memory loss and their caregivers connect with art in the comfort of their own homes. See Me provides intellectual engagement, opportunities for socialization, and the ability for loved ones to spend time together in a relaxed setting.

The four-year-old program used to take place in person on the first and third Wednesday of the month in English and every other week in Spanish, but it moved online last year after the pandemic forced museums in the region to close. “The Smithsonian began reopening museums in May and See Me may resume in-person in the fall. But the virtual program is likely to continue because it has allowed more people to participate,” said Ashley Grady, senior program specialist at Access Smithsonian. “The virtual version of See Me relies on multisensory experiences to keep its audience engaged. Often times, that includes music and storytelling so participants don’t just feel like they’re staring at a computer screen,” Grady said.

What Happens at See Me?

In each session of the program, roughly 8-12 pre-registered participants — usually those with memory loss and their caregivers — closely examine two to three artworks or objects in a nearly hour-long session followed by small group discussions and multi-sensory activities.

“The actual program involves dialogue and engagement by our participants — both adults living with dementia and also their caregivers or care partners,” Grady said. “That’s something that’s really important to us. This program is meant to be for both. See Me’s organizers and leaders have focused on allowing the participants to direct the experience since the program’s launch in October 2017 at the National Portrait Gallery. The docents don’t read off a script; instead, they ask questions like, ‘What do you see? If you were in the work of art, what do you think you’d hear?’” To learn more about See Me at the Smithsonian, contact Ashley Grady at Access@si.edu

Memories in the Making is a national art program of the Alzheimer’s Association, sponsored by chapters across the country. The program helps people express their thoughts and emotions and share memories through painting, drawing and other creative projects.

Hope this is helpful!

Angel

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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