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Thursday, September 12, 2024

Improving the Lives of People with Memory Loss: Art and Music Therapy

At Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services (CMSS), we believe in the power of the arts to benefit mood and health. That’s why we’ve worked hard to bring research-based art and music therapy to CMSS communities, along with a wide selection of workshops and events through our Engagement Through the Arts program.

Earlier this year, we launched Music & MemorySM, a renowned music therapy program for people with memory loss. And this month, we kicked off Bringing Art to Life – Chicago with the support of the High Socks for Hope Foundation.

White Sox pitcher David Robertson and his wife Erin founded High Socks for Hope to provide relief to those affected by natural disasters and help veterans in need of assistance. In working with Bringing Art to Life, they hope to expand art therapy programs for those with memory loss, especially veterans.

In the Bringing Art to Life program, an art therapist works with a small group of people with memory loss, encouraging them to express themselves through art in guided workshops. Caregivers can also participate. Students work with the older adults to help them record memories and stories that the therapy sessions draw out, while researchers track how the program helps participants.

At CMSS’ Wesley Place, the kickoff event was led by art therapist Jenn Ross, who has a master’s degree in art therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She worked with Angela Ray and Cyrus Alavi, project directors from Bringing Art to Life – Chicago, to introduce a project in which each person would choose a phrase that meant something to them to inspire an art piece. David, Erin and their young son came by to help launch the program and talk to the group about their art.

Bringing loved ones close

Husband and wife Richard and Jean Anderson participated in the kickoff event together. Richard, who served in the Naval Air Force Reserve and was active during the Cuban missile crisis, lives with memory loss and Parkinson’s disease. Together, the couple created a piece based on the quote, “Without change, there could be no butterflies.”

Art therapy music therapy
Photo by Michael John Kelly © 2016.

Jean says that art therapy can restore to people some of the ability to connect with the world around them that memory loss limits. She credits the program with giving people the opportunity to reach outside of themselves.

“That’s the gift of being alive – it’s being connected,” said Jean Anderson. “This art program gives people the means to re-establish and maintain that connectedness. Maybe they’ll paint something from a memory or someone loved.”

Making art, sharing stories

Teresa, who served as an Army nurse during World War II, enjoyed both making art and the social aspect of the program.

In addition to using both watercolors and pastels to work on two pieces, a landscape with palm trees and a piece of word art using the phrase “deal with it,” Teresa shared stories from her life with the group.

Her stories ranged from growing up on a farm, to what it was like when the war ended, to her career teaching other nurses and her pride in the nurses she trained. She even told David Robertson about the time she went to a White Sox game with a school group, decades before he joined the team.

Photo by Michael John Kelly © 2016.

Bringing Art to Life – Chicago will roll out fully this fall with opportunities for more members of the CMSS community. Additionally, the program will include a research component led by a team from Rush and Northwestern, which will track the outcomes from art therapy in order to continually improve this and other art therapy programs. Students from Northside College Prep will volunteer to help with the sessions. They will document participants’ work and the stories they choose to share, so that these can later be shared with the participants and their families.

Would you like to support art therapy, music therapy or Engagement Through the Arts at CMSS? It’s easy to do. Donate or volunteer at CMSS now.

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