The Artist Within Exhibit Features the Creative Minds of Artists with Dementia

January 15th, 2016

-Painting by Joan Dolan
The Artist Within exhibit, featuring 51 artworks created by 43 different artists ages 60-101 opened at the Harborview Medical Center Cafeteria March 10, 2016 after garnering rave reviews at the Anne Focke Gallery during January and February. The thought provoking and profoundly original paintings are all created by people living with dementia. The exhibit, the first of its kind in the Northwest, is the brainchild of former Seattle International Children’s Festival director and founder of American Voices Lecture Series, Marilyn Raichle. The inspiration? Her mother, Jean, who forgot she couldn’t paint and began creating “amazing” works of art at Seattle’s innovative dementia day program, Elderwise. “My third act,” Raichle said quietly, referring to this project, her career, and the way her mother’s art transformed her view of Alzheimer’s, “is the best.”

orange meanie“Art is a way past the fear,” Raichle explained to me.”I showed these paintings to someone the other day and she said,’I had no idea! This turns everything I know about Alzheimer’s on it’s head!'”

Painting, “Orange Meanie” by Jean Raichle

What we know about Alzheimer’s and dementia can be scary:

  • Over 5 million people live with it and 1 in 9 will be diagnosed.
  • No medication cures, effectively slows, or manages disease progression.
  • Incidences of Dementia increased by 71% since 2000.
  • Support services are slow in developing and Dementia can be a disease of remarkably long duration.

Portrait of Paula by Hope Lawrence

Family incidence of Alzheimer’s and some Dementias can increase the risk of contracting the disease. Alzheimer’s runs in Marilyn’s family as she writes on her website: “I was raised in the shadow of Alzheimer’s with nearly everyone on my father’s side and many in mother’s developing the disease. We were taught that when Alzheimer’s arrived, it was like a death—actually worse than death. Our parents warned us, ‘Don’t sacrifice your lives for us. When our time comes, just walk away.’ And we all believed it.”

“And then Mom began to paint…” Raichle explains. Art and Alzheimer’s have one thing in common they’re transformational. They hold the power to transform identity and perception or to inspire. The bright cryptic art Marilyn’s mother produced, “opened my eyes to the fact that while her memory was fading, her spirit remained strong, inventive and engaging.” The artworks became Marilyn’s gateway to greater understanding and personal transformation. “I discovered how to slow down and, this sounds so Hallmark-y, but it tapped an ability to love that I didn’t know I had. It got me out of myself to listen and learn the value of real time.” Similarly, she’s hoping the The Artist Within exhibit helps to change the way society sees people living with dementia by inviting us to look anew and meet them as creative people with artistic voices; as artists.

Jean Raichle

“My mother was distilled to her essence–a happy, sunny personality,” Marilyn recalled, “She walked around all day long with her hands in her pockets and she’d stop and tell people how beautiful they are. I got to take that journey with her.” Not everyone’s essence is sunny and perhaps not everyone with dementia is bared to their essence but something happens in all cases that we generally don’t yet understand. To the lay person it may look absent, confused or just puzzling. With skillful support and access to the universal language of music, art, or poetry though many are finding that a new space opens in the liberation of former identity. Sometimes it’s a spiritual and beautiful place. The artists featured in The Artist Within exhibit give us a glimpse of that vibrant inner space and the profound re-seeing of reality that artists have been sharing with humanity for centuries.

artist f stoneThe Artist Within is easily one of the most interesting and surprising projects in my framing career, writes Mainframe who framed and provided logistics for the exhibit. “The artwork is float mounted using Japanese paper hinges, acid free mats, UV conservation glazing and reclaimed Pine frames from Urban Ashes.” Every piece is treated for gallery display and will be returned to the artists. Painting at left by Frank Stone

The Artist Within exhibit is on view March 10-late May at Harborview Medical Center Cafeteria, 325 Ninth Avenue. Admission is free.



Family Caregivers Share Challenges and Coping Skills

December 15th, 2015

Are you a family caregiver? I am. In fact, With A Little Help’s average staff age is 51 so several of our professional caregivers and office staff members also have family caregiving experience. Understanding both situations strengthens empathy for the natural differences in perspective of client and client’s family. I originally conceived of this blog, featuring the challenges and coping mechanisms of four family caregivers, because I was curious about the issues other people encounter in family caregiving and I hoped to gain understanding that would help all readers caring for a loved one. What I found was that these narratives helped me as much in my professional caregiving career as they have in the care of my own mother. I hope you enjoy these four honest and inspiring stories.

andrewAndrew Cohen, of Coho Accounting, provides care for his mother. His biggest challenge was preparing emotionally for her journey into dementia. A bright, resourceful and independent spirit, his mother learned she had Parkinson’s 12 1/2 years ago but kept it in abeyance for 9 years during which Andrew was able to prepare himself for Parkinson’s inevitable physical progressions.  Not all Parkinson’s patients develop dementia but when Andrew’s mother started experiencing symptoms it put added stress on their ability to negotiate her care and, at times, strained their communication. Where does he turn for support? “I try to remember the good times,” Andrew told me. He also receives important guidance from a dear friend who is a hospice nurse and talks to friends about their own family caregiving situations…his “ad hoc support group.”  Most remarkably, he founded his business, Coho Accounting, as a result of his experience with his mother’s need for fiduciary support. He works now with client families going through situations similar to his own. What has he learned? Three main things: Really listen. Don’t disagree with your mother (or with anyone experiencing dementia). Be willing to have difficult and honest conversations. Read the rest of this entry »

Dotty’s Ten Tips For Communicating With A Person Living With Dementia

October 2nd, 2015

I first encountered “Dotty’s Ten Tips for Communicating with a Person Living With Dementia” when it was published within a blog at The Art of Alzheimer’s in July of this year. Authored by Dorothy DeMarco and originally appearing at the Alzheimer’s Reading room Dotty’s Ten Tips are republished here with the kind permission of her son, Bob DeMarco.

Dotty’s Ten Tips for Communicating with a Person Living with Dementia

1. You know what makes me feel safe, secure, and happy? A smile.

2. Did you ever consider this? When you get tense and uptight it makes me feel tense and uptight.

3. Instead of getting all bent out of shape when I do something that seems perfectly normal to me, and perfectly nutty to you, why not just smile at me? It will take the edge off the situation all the way around.

4. Please try to understand and remember it is my short term memory, my right now memory, that is gone — don’t talk so fast, or use so many words.

5. You know what I am going to say if you go off into long winded explanations on why we should do something? I am going to say No, because I can never be certain if you are asking me to do something I like, or drink a bottle of castor oil. So I’ll just say No to be safe.

6. Slow down. And don’t sneak up on me and start talking. Did I tell you I like smiles?

7. Make sure you have my attention before you start blabbering away. What is going to happen if you start blabbering away and you don’t have my attention, or confuse me? I am going to say No – count on it.

8. My attention span and ability to pay attention are not as good as they once were, please make eye contact with me before you start talking. A nice smile always gets my attention. Did I mention that before?

9. Sometimes you talk to me like I am a child or an idiot. How would you like it if I did that to you? Go to your room and think about this. Don’t come back and tell me you are sorry, I won’t know what you are talking about. Just stop doing it and we will get along very well, and probably better than you think.

10. You talk too much — instead try taking my hand and leading the way. I need a guide not a person to nag me all the time.

Go4Life: Start Up or Improve Your Exercise Routine

September 3rd, 2015

marathon-runners-1024x681Do you run? Walk? Bicycle? If you do, you’re part of the reason that Seattle consistently ranks in the top ten fittest cities. If you need some motivation to join the crowd the National Institute on Aging has launched an annual program called Go 4 Life. Go 4 Life promotes physical activity to improve quality of life for older adults. This isn’t just about urging couch potatoes to move this is a drive to bring exercise to everyone whether you have arthritis, live with dementia, suffer depression, experience low vision, or just feel too busy. Tap into the movement and improve your health— it’s Go 4 Life month! Read the rest of this entry »

Easing Caregiving Stress With Mindful Self-Compassion

July 31st, 2015

B. Bartja Wachtel spoke to a packed crowd of caregivers at DSHS’s Giving Care, Taking Care conference. They were there to hear about what some call techniques, skills, or methods  for easing on-the-job stress, but Bartja calls them, “ways of being in the moments of suffering.” Wachtel, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Mental Health Professional, and Child Mental Health Specialist, and Mindful Self-Compassion Trained Teacher led the group through sometimes moving and deeply effective meditations that can be practiced in moments of difficult feelings or in-the-moment caregiving stress.

Mindfulness Self-Compassion (MSC) practices can be brief or more involved.  Do it in 3 minutes or devote your lunch break. To begin, simply settle into a comfortable position. You may have time to do a 2 minute body scan (a check in on you and where you are in the moment) or perhaps you can manage only a few deep slow breaths into the present moment. Put your hand over your heart to bring affection into your awareness if you like then continue. On a difficult day, maybe you can find 7 minutes for a  Self-Compassionate Break?  If not, Dr. Kristin Neff, researcher, co-developer of  MSC curriculum and narrator of the Self-Compassionate Break audio,  says, this can be used in the heat of the moment. It’s a portable, powerful and flexible tool for managing the stress of difficult emotions.

Read the rest of this entry »

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