Friday, April 24, 2015

An Art Affair

Megan Morrison holds a place in her heart for people living with Alzheimer's Disease. Having two beautiful grandmothers who have lived with the disease, she has seen first hand how it affects not only the individual, but their family.

She created Newfoundland Art Affairs as a way to engage these individuals in meaningful activity.

Megan says, "I have a dedicated passion for working with individuals living with Alzheimer's Disease and those who care for them. I have facilitated arts-engagement for those living with dementia on a one-on-one basis in both a private home setting and a residential community setting in the St. John's, NL community. I am currently in the final stages of my PhD in the Faculty of Medicine, in the division of Community Health & Humanities at Memorial University of Newfoundland. In 2011, I participated in the Creative Expression, Communication and Dementia Conference in Burlington, Ontario. In 2012, I received the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada and Creative Expressions of Dementia Society Award. In 2013, I attended the Training Institute at the Creative Centre at University Settlement, New York for artists and administrators in creative aging. I have participated in community art classes since a very young age and consider myself mostly self-taught."

An 'Art-Affair' is a half-hour to an hour visit where a person living with Alzheimer's Disease is given an opportunity to do a creative-arts activity. Megan will come to the individual's home or to a residential care-facility, and based on their personality, strengths and their level of ability, she will engage the person in an art-making activity. The session is aimed at enriching the quality of life for the person with dementia as well as those who are caring for them.

"The visits are not "art therapy" in a traditional sense. I am not an art therapist. However, many would argue that art has a natural therapeutic effect. Essentially, I am providing a visit, materials, and the assistance needed to enjoy creating something artistic."

Art Affair activities may include any of the following: watercolour and acrylic painting, mixed media painting, collage, crafts, poetry, play dough or clay activities, working with photographs, print-making, playing with textures, pastels, imitation stained glass, or metaphor imagery put into visual form.

"My experience working with people with Alzheimer's is that while they all seem to follow a similar progression of the disease, their personalities reveal beautiful differences through art and music. I've been looking at how people with dementia communicate through body language and symbolic words and gestures, through a research lens for about 7 years. I have worked as a volunteer as well. I find myself now somewhere in-between. I really love adding to their quality of life and experience of person-hood. I am interested in seeing how the community responds to an arts-based resource of support for families going through this. I'm not an art therapist, but I am invested in art as a means to better health and better quality of life. Individuals living with dementia have so many stories. Some of these stories are based on things you and I may remember, and some of them aren't. Art and creative expression encourages all stories. Our stories are who we are. Our art helps us to enjoy who we are."

Megan, I am so inspired by what you do. It's like we are on opposite ends of the spectrum. I work with children, and spend my days preparing them for their future. I drench their beautiful little brains with knowledge and experiences that I hope will give them the best possible foundation from which to grow.

I don't often think about the later years (the last years), but longevity is in my genes. If I live to be 94 like my grandmother, or 102 like my great-grandfather, I can only hope to know someone as kind as you, who will take the time to engage me in activities to stimulate my mind and soul.

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