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Students take art therapy journey with Alzheimer’s patients

January 18, 2019

KOKOMO, Ind. – A simple image of an airplane, cut from a magazine, prompted fond memories for a woman whose memory is fleeting due to Alzheimer’s disease. The photo was then placed in a collage with the help of a student.

It was a moving moment for Makenzie Quinn.

“I learned that the art product wasn’t the goal, or the benefit. It was the journey that the art making took us on that provided therapeutic gains,” she said. “It was about the memories that came up, the movement, the social aspect, or just being free, creative, and happy for the moment.”

This real-world experience as an art therapist changed Quinn’s view on how well the Alzheimer patients would respond, based on seeing her own grandmother face challenges the last 11 years of her life from the disease.

“I realized they are capable, and my grandmother just didn’t have these opportunities provided to her,” said Quinn, a psychology major at Indiana University Kokomo. “I would like to have seen what she could have accomplished in the last years of her life.”

Artwork created by residents of Waterford Place Health Campus’ memory care center, with the help of four students and one faculty, are now on display at the IU Kokomo Art Gallery through Friday January 25. 

The residents participated in six weeks of art therapy along with the students, taught by Brooke Komar, visiting lecturer in psychology, who is also an art therapist and licensed mental health counselor.

Komar noted that Alzheimer’s patients lose capacity to build new memories, and are dependent on others to do things they used to be able to do for themselves. Both of these can diminish their feelings of accomplishment and self-esteem, and limit their social opportunities.

“It is my desire to provide a space in which the art of those living with Alzheimer’s disease can provide a voice and tell a story that won’t be forgotten,” she said. This group was about giving them moments of joy, moments of pleasure, moments of self-worth and opportunities for social engagement.”

Komar said approximately 5.7 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases. While art therapy can’t cure the disease, it can improve the lives of those who have it.

“Our approach to interactions with those living with Alzheimer’s can drastically change the quality of life for those living with the disease,” she said.

The four students gained invaluable experiences of one potential career in the psychology field, along with the satisfaction of helping another person.

“I wanted them to take what they’ve learned about psychology theory, and put it in practice in a meaningful situation,” Komar said. “I think they gained a sense of personal and academic identification. Students often feel insecure about what they’ve learned, and this gave them a chance to practice and observe how we use the psychological theories of aging, and how we use that to inform what we do, and how we interact with people with Alzheimer’s.”

Quinn is now certain that art therapy is the right career for her, and is considering graduate schools.

“It gave me the feeling that this is what I want to do, this is who I want to be, and this is how I want to help others,” said Quinn. “It’s fulfilling to know that I am doing something that makes a difference. It may not be for the whole world, but I made a difference for one person.”

The exhibition continues through Friday, January 25 in the Art Gallery, 2300 S. Washington St. Admission is free.

The Gallery is free and open to the public, with free parking on campus. It is open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday.

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 01/18/2019