News & Events

Painting up a storm

July 31, 2018

Ailsa Gaia battles the wind and rain getting to work in winter. Then her challenge is to bring the seasons to life inside the warmth of her workplace.  Ailsa is the art therapist at Liscombe House, OCAV’s aged care facility at St Helena.

Each week residents, from the Anne Jeffery dementia unit, gather around the table touching autumn leaves and exploring ideas about painting or drawing them and remembering moments of their lives connected to seasons.

“It’s important for people, who don’t go outside much, to be reminded of the seasons, to recall how they felt and what physical changes they connect with the various seasons. It’s a platform for conversations and memories,” Ailsa said. “One lady is painting snow in her scenes and talking about times she went to the snow with friends. Her story is borne in that moment. Another day I brought in fresh flowers and while painting some of the residents began talking about their gardens as children.”

Ailsa also works one-to-one with residents from Liscombe House, a 30-bed high-level care facility at Liscombe House.

“At the moment I am working with one woman trying to explore as many senses as possible. We go to the garden and smell the plants, and see and touch various textiles and objects including plants, feathers and fabrics,” Ailsa said.

Ailsa’s art therapy program, made possible in part through a grant (for the second year) from The Marian & E.H. Flack Trust, depends on the capacities of the residents who attend sessions each week. Volunteers make it possible for each resident’s needs to be explored and developed. It’s also a chance for the residents to grieve the death of friends, which is part of living in an aged care facility.

The group is completing an elephant paper mache, the initiative of a woman, a hat maker and keen crafter, who died recently. The project has more meaning for the residents because their friend was the driving force behind the idea and they want to complete it.

For Ailsa, the volunteers and residents, trust is a major part of every project and painting.

“It can be daunting for residents coming to art therapy to start with a blank page. But we build up trust with each other and slowly they begin to express something through painting that they might not be able to express with words,” Ailsa said.

“Some people with dementia can no longer use words as their platform to communicate, others replace many words with one word or revert to their first language. So art therapy offers a new tool to many people and sometimes it taps into other things that we may not know about ourselves.”

Ailsa and the volunteers are clear with participants that they do not have to produce a wonderful product at the end and they are not working to exhibit work of a high standard. “To me it is fantastic if they do something that is them. It’s also okay if they don’t create anything at all, but just sit and be part of the group.”

“Art provides such wonderful, often brief, opportunities for the residents to communicate something about themselves,” Ailsa said. “Sometimes it can energize a resident who sleeps a lot and for others it can be calming and give them a sense of peace.”

Caption: Ailsa works with resident Margaret Pepper using paint and autumn leaves.

Josephine Katite may be a long way from Kenya, where she was born and lived until 2005 but the experience of looking after her elderly grandparents is very much with her every day in her work at Liscombe House.

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