by: Gail Sonnesso, MS, QDCS, Founder and Executive Director GEM Day Services, Inc. a non-profit working to provide meaningful programs for families with their loved ones living with memory loss at home
Art at the Park is a GEM program for folks with memory loss fashioned to provide meaningful afternoons for both the person with dementia and their family caregiver.
It is widely accepted that 70% of people with dementia live in the home and with this in mind GEM works to provide meaningful activities for families caring for their loved ones in the home environment.
For example, one of our Art at the Park programs took place in our local aquarium. Kaye, an aquarium volunteer, led us [a mix of GEM volunteers, family caregivers, paid caregivers and people with memory challenges] on a tour of the turtle rehabilitation center, the shark tank and the touch tank.
Next we joined Beth, Aquarium Educator in a classroom and learned about seaweed marbling. We all donned our aprons and selected our colors and floated the paints in the thickened water. We swirled the paints to create designs and then carefully laid an alum treated paper over the design and even more carefully lifted the paper up and laid newly created design on newspaper to dry..
As we snacked on homemade cookies and brownies made by a volunteer we listened to “sea critter” themed music performed by Nick on a guitar.
The goals of Art at the Park are:
- Quality time for both the person with memory loss and their caregivers
- Demonstrate to the caregiver and volunteers that the person with memory loss CAN be SUCCESSFUL and engaged in activities with the appropriate supports
- Engage and train community volunteers about how to interact, engage and respond to and people with memory loss
- Reduce the stigma of dementia perceived in the community by providing an opportunity to relate to folks and get to know them as individuals
- Educate the staff at parks and refuges to successfully interact with people with dementia
- Demonstrate to all involved that engagement in the arts as “treatment for people with dementia” really works
GEM provides an Art at the Park program once a month and thanks to funding from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and the Outer Banks Community Foundation there is no charge. We also recognize our wonderful volunteers including GEM Board members, the staff of the parks and community friends.