Art Made It's Connection - An Alzheimer Journey by Sue Scoggins

Tuesday I volunteered to teach an art class to the residents in the Alzheimer unit.  Never having done this before, I didn’t know what to expect.  Jerry and many others were not able to participate but about 7 of them were able to sit and hold a brush or pencil.  I placed a piece of paper in front of each participant and had them pick out a pencil.  These were watercolor pencils.  None of them were able to tell me what their favorite color was.  I asked Barbara if she like roses, she said, “Yes.”  What colors are some of your favorite roses.  "Pink!”  I gave her a pink pencil. We began by raising our arms and shaking our hands as a way to spark a little energy exercise.  I  asked them to close their eyes and try to think of something they loved.....something that made them happy.  As I walked around to each one of them, they looked at me with blank stares (but smiling).  When I got to Ivan, he said with a chuckle, “I don’t know what to draw.”  Ivan still is able to speak and he still has a voice that could complete with the most accomplished baritone.  I said, “Ivan.  You love to sing.  What is your favorite song?”  He couldn’t answer, but the activity director told me it was “In The Garden”.   “Ivan”, I said.  “That was my daddy’s favorite song.  Let’s sing it.”  So, we began to sing, “I come to the garden alone, while the due is still on the roses.  And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the son of God discloses.....and He walks with me and He talks with me...and He tells me I am his own.........”   As we began to sing, Ivan put his pencil on the paper and began to make marks.  They were such tiny marks looking like hieroglyphics or Morris code.  

As we sang, I continued around the table.  Betty, without any prompting, drew a picture of a her boyfriend.  Lorette drew a picture of herself.  Both were happy paintings with smiling faces.  When I got to Roy,he had drawn a face with a farmer’s hat.  Kitty, a former artist, drew a complex figure filled with lines and squiggles.  She had not made an attempt to draw in years.

Feedback is kind of sketchy with Alzheimer folks.  Some don’t respond at all accept with maybe a glimmer in their eyes.  Others may smile or look puzzled.  Once the “artist” was rekindled in Kitty, she gave a slight smile.

As I was nearing the end of the circle, Ivan said, “You distracted me.  I don’t know where I was.”  So we began to sing In the Garden again.  He picked up where had left off.  When I came to his drawing and looked closely, I could see that Ivan had been writing the words to the song.  He had written the words!  The words were still alive!