News & Events

The power of art

April 19, 2017

Most people, when offered the chance to paint or draw, shy away and say they don’t have an artistic bone in their body. But for many people with dementia the opportunity to draw or paint is met without inhibition. Mandy Williamson, Lifestyle Coordinator at Liscombe House, OCAV’s aged care facility, said the dementia residents who participate in the regular art program never apologise for the standard of their artwork. They simply become absorbed in what they are doing and enjoy whatever they create.


While Liscombe House does not have an art therapist, it is fortunate enough to have several volunteers, all artists, who work with the dementia residents from the Anne Jeffery wing to express themselves through painting, drawing and other mediums. Some of the participants have been involved in art through their lives, but others come with no art background, just an interest in making something.


Mandy said the art program gives the participants, all women, the chance to draw, paint, and work with textured materials such as fabrics and various types of pens.


“There is one resident who was an artist and still does really sophisticated drawings. Another lady always reverts to drawing in circular motions no matter how she begins and she is utterly absorbed in that work and she enjoys doing it,” Mandy said.


The volunteers who work with the group bring a great energy to Liscombe House and two have worked previously with an art therapist.


One newer volunteer, Mona Ismail, knows first hand the cathartic value of creating. After her brother died three years ago she struggled with her grief, but soon found herself overwhelmed by a need to paint.


“I really felt an urge to paint and I knew I needed to support that need, so I just painted and painted,” said Mona who moved to Australia from the United Arab Emirates almost 16 months ago.


Mona comes each week and works one on one with some residents. Every fortnight she joins the other volunteers in a bigger group. For Mona, who is currently doing post-graduate studies in disability and inclusion at Deakin University, her ‘art classes’ combine her interest in art and her work in aged care. She hopes her studies will eventually lead to work in the field of art therapy.


She loves the weekly classes and believes the participants also enjoy them. “I notice each week that the people doing the art will remember something about the art, even if they don’t remember me. It is very interesting to see how people respond to what they create and I feel that it does affect them.”


Mandy Williamson agrees that participating in the art group does calm some of the residents who might have been unsettled earlier in the day.

For artist Matthew Shires volunteering each fortnight ‘creates the possibility for people to express themselves’ and the quality of the end product is not important.


“For some of the participants who have been artists, it is a way of bringing back a part of their past, a part of themself,” he said. “I really do believe that these people are expressing themselves even if they can’t explain what that is.”


Matthew has been volunteering with the art program for two years and works it in around his own studies in counselling and artwork.  He also hopes to bring together his art and counseling in future work. He has illustrated children’s books and worked in several mediums including painting and drawing.


Mona, Matthew, Mandy and other volunteers in the art program, are committed to providing opportunities for people with dementia to create, a view supported by many working in the field of dementia.


Dr Patricia Baines, in her paper, Quality Dementia Care Nurturing the Heart: creativity, art therapy and dementia, writes, “Some of the latest research now supports the idea that all human beings are creative. Further, research is also showing the value of remaining creative for maintaining our well-being and quality of life.


“The capacity of older people to be creative, despite health problems such as dementia, is part of the new understanding that individuals are able to remain creative throughout their lives, providing they have opportunities to use their creativity … Whereas spoken words “slip away”, paintings and poems remain as tangible objects to be found again and again. The emphasis of art therapy is on the process of creation, that making an image (whether in pictures or words) expresses something of the person. Self-expression raises self-esteem and enables individuals with various kinds of memory loss to express their feelings.”


OCAV has applied for a grant to employ an art therapist to build on the wonderful work of our volunteers and to provide increased opportunities for resident participation.

Caption: Volunteer Mona Ismail works with one of the Liscombe House residents on some artwork.

"I love the fact that Rushall Park residents and volunteers are so active – contributing to life in the village. The sense of the community is strong which is why I put my name on the waiting list" - Maggie Birkett.

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