This picture only hints at the joy of Connections participant Rebecca (second from right) and her priceless original artwork, created at Memory Matters under the gentle guidance of our artist-in-residence Art Cornell (second from left). Also pictured here are Program Director Cathee Stegall (far right) and Volunteer Daisy.
We are nearing the end of November, a month in which the growing Memory Matters family has taken time to remember lives touch by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. November being the Alzheimer’s Disease and Family Caregivers Awareness Month. We held a candlelit service one evening at Memory Matters program center, we spoke from a church pulpit, offered prayers, and attended ministry fairs and other awareness sessions at local churches from Hilton Head to Okatie. It was a time of reflection and remembrance, but we also looked forward with hope for the day when these so far incurable diseases will be isolated, and when scientific evidence will permit the prescribed use of interventions that will protect humankind from the disease.
We try to imagine anew what life would be like and, in our own truly unique way, our not-for-profit organization is charting a course that embraces the the most up-to-date research on brain health. We are not content to wait for the cure! We are determined to help educate our community with the most appropriate brain health lifestyle ideas based on solid research by US and International Universities.
Sir Winston Churchill who, among many remarkable achievements, wrote the “History of the English Speaking Peoples”, once remarked that in order to plan ahead, a wise man should read and study history and learn! So I am writing this both as a reflection of the past and a look to the future.
Two years ago we published a book (available from Memory Matters) entitled “Meet Me Where I Am”. It is a lovely “coffee table” book dedicated to our Caregivers and their loved ones who have experienced the loss of memory and cognitive decline. It combines touching words of sadness with humor and hope. It is especially relevant for those on the “longest journey”. One of the contributors is Art Cornell who later became our terrific “Artist in Residence”. Art is not only an acclaimed artist but also a poet, and here is one of his poems from the book which I have been reflecting upon:
Love Complete by Art Cornell
On days such as this,
While wisps float;
Love is the whole and
more than all, much more.
Surf crashing, rays heating,
Futures to dream, capsules of
Looking at the music of
And love is the whole
and more than all,
Give me your hand once
More before this day’s
Your gentle eyes bright, a
touch soft, your voice
my soul vibrates,
And love is the whole
and more than all,
I have been privileged to watch Art empowering our Connections class participants with truly remarkable results. Our own Senior Program Director and Memory Care Specialist – Cathee Stegall is an amazing artist too and she wrote this in the book I have earlier refered to:
“We are all born with natural abilities for creativity and art. Often as we “grow up” we lose sight of our creative, artisitic selves. For the person with dementia, finding that creative self again can be life changing. For the Caregiver it can mean moments of fun and joy”.
Cathee went on to explain that art gives a voice to those with dementia. As dementia progresses, cognitive abilities decline, making it a struggle to complete sentences and find words, express emotions. Through art therapy our Connections class participants receive the gift of self expression, an unheard voice to their emotions, the opportunity for success, accomplishment, and joy.
I have personally witnessed our class members “coming alive” tinged with a sense of serenity that is amazing to experience. Through the eyes of this volunteer I have witnessed change. A person lacking personal direction and motivation, or an agitated person, or even a listless person: I have seen them become calm and relaxed and more at peace with themselves.
Art Cornell and Cathee are both modest people but as I reflect on 2017’s successes, their art therapy contribution has been quite notable.
The Connections class and Compass program will continue to be developed. Our art, music, yoga therapies and other socialization themes will be refined to reflect the results from new research studies, and we will continue to offer unparalleled care and counseling for the caregiver.
With research specialists such as Dr Rudolph Tanzi successfully pioneering techniques to identify the genes that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, there is hope of a cure in our children’s lifetime. There is more hope when leading philanthropists such as Bill Gates add their time, talent and treasure to the battle. I can imagine success in the future, as there has been with heart disease and some cancers.
Here in the Lowcountry I can easily imagine the dynamic and skilled Memory Matters team continuing to educate the community at large on the benefits of certain lifestyle interventions that will enhance brain health. In fact I expect this work will gather pace over the next few years.
So as I reflect and imagine anew I conclude that I’m delighted and privileged to be a Memory Matters volunteer!
If you know someone who would benefit from our help please introduce them or give them our telephone number 1843 842 6688. Call the same number for a confidential Memory screening or if you need information on our brain health educational programs.