Art project at Springridge Court brightens residents' spirits
The act of creating provides a boost to the brain quite unlike anything else.
Whether expressed musically, in writing or in ink or paint, art can be used to help people communicate, cope with stress and explore their own personalities. Psychologists use art therapy to help treat their patients, while doctors treating patients with Alzheimers disease long ago recognized the efficacy of art and music in helping to ease its symptoms.
Thats the background behind a recent art project at the Springridge Court assisted living facility in Charbonneau, run by art therapist Sharon Evers and Lake Oswego-based Face in the Mirror Counseling. Featuring the collaboration of seven residents from the facilitys memory care unit, home to those in need of full-time medical care, as well as nearly a dozen other residents living in the assisted living wing, the three-month project was both spontaneous and highly evolved at the same time.
The end result is a collaborative painting measuring 6 feet by 4 feet. It hangs in the facilitys dining room, where it shares a unique vision of Oregons colorful heritage.
There was great camaraderie in the process, said Evers, who typically works with seniors suffering from impaired cognitive function. And one of the wonderful things about a group painting like that is the affirmations they give each other and the encouragement and praise, which is so important. Not a whole lot of that is going on at that stage of their lives anymore, so thats another benefit.
The start of the project was a bit more mundane, however, kicking off with disgruntled diners.
Evers mother, Eileen Zeringue, is a Springridge Court resident. During her regular visits to see her mother and father at Springridge Court, Evers heard repeated complaints about the dreary wreaths that passed as decoration in the facilitys huge dining room.
One of the big issues they were talking about was dissatisfaction with what had previously been hung in the dining room for décor, Evers said. Im an art therapist and I work with older adults especially, so as I was listening to this chatter going on I said, I know how to do something about that.
Evers approached Springridge Court administrators and eventually won them over to her idea. Work started last July.
I kind of had an idea of doing something that would be a familiar theme of Oregon and nature and things they might identify with, Evers explained. Then it was a matter of getting it on the schedule and doing it when I had the time.
She started out sketching possible images herself and settled on something resembling the final layout, which features a mash-up of the city of Portland, Mount Hood, the Willamette Valley and Eastern Oregon. Starting with the memory care unit, Springridge Court residents gradually filled in the colors and added their own details, such as the bales of wheat and vineyard that together represent what makes Oregon an agricultural powerhouse.
They are more impaired, Evers said of the memory care residents, who often suffer from Alzheimers and other forms of dementia. So my idea, which is what they were able to do, is filling in the backgrounds. They used rollers and brushes, and I had to move them around a little bit to get them to the right spots.
After several sessions Evers moved on to the assisted living wing, where another dozen or so residents took turns adding the bits and pieces that added up to the final image.
They did a brainstorming of what themes they liked about Oregon, Evers said. And we kind of made sure those were all incorporated into the actual details they put on the painting. It worked really well, and we had folks using sponges and some using brushes, some with stamps, they had all kinds of tools.
Work wrapped up in September, and Zeringue still remembers her excitement when the painting was then unveiled in December at a special dinner for residents and families. Shes especially proud of the sun she helped draw in one corner.
Shed say, Mom, just paint a circle up there for the sun, Zeringue said with a smile. Id say, A circle? Shed say, Yes, Ill come back and do the edges. So I said, OK, Ill paint a circle.
Its that kind of creative stimulation that art therapists use to inspire cognitive recovery in their patients, Evers said. Shes run Face in the Mirror for 13 years and shes seen the process in action too many times to recount.
Its a blessing to be able to participate in something like that, she said. We have a natural tendency to be creative even though we might not think of ourselves as artistic. So (in) art therapy, what youre trying to do is create an area of safety where you feel comfortable trying something.
Because creating art is a complex process involving up to 20 different areas of the brain, Evers said, art therapy offers widespread stimulation across the brain.
You can count Springridge Court staff among those who now believe in the process. But it also was not without bittersweet moments.
Some (residents) passed away during the process, said Springridge Court Programs Assistant Cindy Foster. One man, who is an artist, took part in every session, and then passed away and he didnt get to see it hung. He drew the clouds and the windows on the building.
Evers father also passed away during the process after watching his wife work on the project over a period of time. That adds to the emotional weight of the piece. And so do the reactions of the families of residents.
The cool thing was weve been seeing residents since its been hung, and they bring their families in, Foster said. And one granddaughter was overheard saying, My grandma painted that part. So the residents are so proud of their work, and the families are excited about it.
Springridge Court is located at 32100 SW French Prairie Road, Wilsonville. For more information, visit srgseniorliving.com.