Sunday, March 31, 2013

Engaging the Elderly in a Dialog with Art via Art Slides



Art invites the mind to ponder the seemingly endless possibilities of form and color. I fell in love with art as a dialog between the viewer and the work itself when I was twelve years old and my mother took me to NYC, we lived in East Brunswick, NJ., to view an exhibit of contemporary women artists at the MOMA. After we walked the gallery floors, we went to a nearby bookstore where I purchased my first art poster for my bedroom wall. I was hooked. I have a particular passion for work done by conceptual artists and, too, for painters like Agnes Martin and Mark Rothko (his art above).

One of the younger seniors that attends the Bridge expressed an interest in art by Picasso, Dali and Matisse. I searched EBay for some affordable slides and was fortunate enough to have placed the winning bid on 40 slides of work by Matisse and Lichtenstein.


I pulled the slide viewer I had used in my classroom (for that post view here) from one of the boxes of materials stored in my closet and brought it to work. I showed the senior that I thought would enjoy it the most how to use the viewer and how to handle the slides. I don't have a white glove...yet.



 As he looked at one slide and then another.


He made comments about the color and referred to objects he thought the imagery reminded him of.


I looked at a few of this senior's paintings later that week. I saw so much beauty in his color choices and his minimalist style. They invite a dialog within myself that I do not yet have words to express outwardly. I think I will add his name to my list of favorite artists. Here is a recent piece he painted for you to converse with:



Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Mystery Bag - Coins / Sensorial Activities for the Elderly



After I witnessed how successful the coin bank game was with the clients at the Bridge, I decided that I would piece together a mystery bag for them to use also. (To view my post written about this work used in the classroom go here) I found an interesting bag at the thrift store and a blindfold, also. I gathered coins from willing staff and put them in the bag, making sure that I have four of each: quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies. I also printed out a large print version of a coin identification chart for those individuals that may need prompting in regards to knowing which coin is which.


 It was really great to see the two money works sitting side by side on the "Montessori" shelves.


I invited the senior who had done the coin bank game the day before to join me in a new activity. Before we started, however, I showed him how to put a tissue on top of the blindfold before putting the blindfold on. This is what I was taught in my training. It helps in preventing the spread of eye infections as multiple people will be using the same blindfold.



Too, I guided his fingertips over the edges of the coins highlighting the differences. He was very quick to note which coin was which by this method.


Soon he had the blindfold on and was pulling out one coin after another and naming each.



He got every coin right. Each time he pulled one from the bag, he would say "Smooth around the edges," or he would say, "Small and light, this is a dime."


The next day, I invited another senior to do the work. Like the first senior, she felt the ridge of each coin and named each one correctly. Only the pennies were challenging for her. She said she had trouble feeling the surface engravings on the pennies as some were more worn than others.


After she did the work, we talked about how using a blindfold makes you more aware of the tactile impressions of your environment via your hand. We both agreed that is would be great work to do before beginning a sketch; she is an excellent artist, or before starting to write a story; I am a writer.

Using a blindfold with the elderly always needs to be done in a one on one setting and always when they are seated. Every person's senses are unique and their experiences garnered via those senses are also unique. This is why sensorial materials are recommended to be mostly used by one person at a time. An exception is when two adults or students are working together. In this case, one wears the blindfold while the other assists with the materials in use.

I am putting together a second mystery bag this weekend of small objects. I am on the hunt for what to put in there...oh the fun of it!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Montessori Coin Game - Math Activities for the Elderly



I have such wonderful memories of my students using the coin bank game. They really enjoyed using this material and used again and again. Over the past several weeks, I have pieced together a tray to use this game at the Bridge with some of the seniors.

Not all of the adults that attend the Bridge have dementia. A few attend for socialization needs and others attend because they need supervision. That required supervision may be due to the medication that they are on or because the disease they have, such as Parkinson's, limits their capacity to be fully independent.

One of the challenges for the staff is to create activities that promote cognitive skills for those individuals who do not have dementia or Alzheimer's, although they attend a day program where they are immersed in a culture of memory loss or repetitive long term memory recollection.

Adding the Coin Bank Game to the other materials on the Montessori shelves just seemed to make sense.


It provides exercises in identifying the value of specific US coins and the exchange of those coins for others of equal value. This game refreshes and reinforces the skills needed to work with money on a basic level while simultaneously simply being a fun game to play.

This morning, I asked one of the Bridge attendees if they wanted to try a new game. He said he did. I went and got the tray from the shelf and then explained what each of the items on the tray were used for. I then showed him the beautiful lid of the box and explained that it was an image of Russian origins. He told me that he thought is was very pretty. Here is a very important point of interest - as in the classroom, always use beautiful materials.


I lifted the lid of the box and showed him what was inside.


First I took from the box two dice. This is different than the material I made for the classroom (see classroom post here), as I used only one dice for that tray. Using two dice allowed us each to hold onto our own and that limited the required exchange of materials that may have resulted in some confusion for the adults at the Bridge. This is a second vital point; ensure that all materials are psychologically appropriate - this is always significant.

To begin, I asked that the senior participant role his dice. He did. He got a five. He then selected five pennies from the box or bank.



 Next, he exchanged these five pennies for a nickel.



He continued to role his dice and I mine. Each time we chose from the bank the amount on the dice and then, if we could and only during our turn, we made any possible exchanges such as 2 nickles exchanged for a dime, so on and so forth.





The winner of the game was the player who accumulated four quarters via rolls of the dice and then exchanged those four quarters for the dollar bill.

The senior I was playing with won and you can see from his smile that he was most pleased that he did.


After the game ended he said to me, "That game teaches you how to work with money." He then told me that sometimes his caregivers give him money to purchase things. He also said that he has a coin jar at home. The coin game inspired him to think about money in regards to its use in his own life.

Also, shortly after we played this game, he was on the floor engaged in a golf activity with a half a dozen or more other seniors. Perhaps he felt more confident, I really don't know, but when the group was asked to add together the scores of players, he spoke up a few times with the correct answer. This was not a typical scenario. It did reveal that he is capable of mathematical thinking and to articulate his summations out loud. It's good, all good!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Building with Blocks - Activities for the Elderly



Every now and then you just have to grab a bucket of blocks and go with it. Last week I did just that. An art activity led by a member of the local Alzheimer's Association had just concluded. I observed most of the seniors were still sitting at the tables where the activity was held and chatting. I had a bean bag tossing game scheduled but on my way to get the bean bags, I passed a tub of blocks that were designed to build cathedrals. I had never used blocks with a group of seniors before, but for whatever reason I knew this was the moment to grab them and go; so I did.

I placed the bucket on the table and started putting handfuls of blocks in front of each of the sitting seniors. Two other seniors nearby saw what I was doing and came over to join in the fun. Soon everyone was making comments about how long it had been since they had used blocks. "I feel like a kid again," one senior commented. Another stated that she had used building blocks that had letters on them when she was a child in the 1920's and that was how she learned to spell words.


After a few minutes what had initially began as just happenstance fun turned into architectural and sculptural design. Elements of spatial and sequential placement was simultaneously in play. Play became an interesting word in regards to describing the movement of their hands as they reached for one block and then another. Soon I was visualizing chess moves.  It brought back memories of my art writing years and stories of Marcel Duchamp and his chess playing as an aesthetic action.




As the number of participants increased, the number of blocks available for each decreased. While another staff member worked with the seniors, I went and retrieved a set of colorful cubes that bore geometric patterns. As soon as I placed these on the table, one of the participating seniors pushed away her wooden blocks and began working with them.


She turned the cubes over and over until she found the side she wanted and was building with. This selective action / decision making added an additional cognitive skill to the block "playing."


After several minutes of concentrated work, she invited me to view what she had constructed. It was her design and it was art.


Another senior wanted to work with the cubes and so they were dismantled and passed on. Soon the senior who had been using the cubes was experimenting with random structures.


The cubes in use by the second senior were repositioned...


And soon a new pattern and construction emerged. She was so pleased by her assemblage.


One of the Tlingit seniors placed her two-three piece "sculptures" inches apart and the placement had such an interesting spatial quality about it that it made you think of sacred sites like Stonehenge in England.


Her pieces were also dialogues on balance and relationships. Minimalist in design while weighted in associative history.


And oh yes, castles where built with fortresses and motes filled with water created by torn blue construction paper.


Battles were imagined and spoken of. Conquest were celebrated as blocks were moved and rearrange.




A third senior asked for the cubes and he pieced together one last assemblage.




It was a great activity. Blocks will be used a little more often at the Bridge. Who knows what they might build next...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Practical Life with Elders - Botany



I have posted before about this particular senior and her leaf washing and do so again today as I learn more about this work every time I watch her do it. Too, she speaks to the plants when she cares for them and her spoken words reveal much. I recorded some of her conversation on a short video that I have included below.

Before she arrived at the Bridge, I placed the leaf washing tray on the red place mat that is used as a sort of placeholder. As soon as she arrived, I told her that I had much work that needed to be done and that I was hoping she would help me with it. "Just show me what you need done and I will do it. I love to help out. Love to," she answered. We walked to the back room together and I showed her the plants that needed her care.





I captured some of what she said in the following notes:

"Flowers and plants are important you know. They put oxygen in the air.

I am talking to the leaves cause they like being talked to. I am being very careful...ah, there is a baby one...so beautiful.

They are alive like us. I'm making sure I put a lot of water on them. Let me do the top then the bottom...I did that one. I don't mind doing this and they are happy as all get up. The more water I put on the more they love it. 

There are a lot of new shoots in here. That's good. Lovely, lovely...right in the middle here there are new shoots because we are taking care of them. 

I know what I am doing cause I did it before. I feel each one with my hand and that way I can tell if I washed it or not. I am dripping all over with water but its worth it cause they move...it's them saying thank you by peeking their heads up.  Nice and green...emerald green. I don't want to miss nobody. There ya go...I gotcha. What a little water can do. Thank you plant for letting me care for your body."



(* the noise in the background is another staff member running a large group activity.)