The Apple Tree
by Kathryn Quinlan,
PAC Products and Services Coordinator,
with Leandra Sims,
PAC Certified Independent Coach and Trainer
We at Sierra Madre of Kensington, have found that creating art can be a means of communication for our residents, when the left side of the brain is not giving them formal words to use. Our resident Bette is great at social chit chat and can swear like a sailor, but when she paints, she can harness and share beautiful memories that are important to who she was and is.
Offering someone living with dementia open ended tools, like basic painting supplies, instead of outlined coloring pages, can open a door to the hippocampal area of the brain (short term memory/deep emotional memory- finding our way to and from the familiar to unfamiliar- passage of time awareness).
With a simple palate of watercolors, brushes, and artist paper, Bette painted an apple tree. The tree was simple but to the left of the tree she painted BOB. When she felt the painting was complete, we asked her to title the painting. She titled it Love Letter and sang Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree to Bob. She went on to explain that he was hers, and shared how she was so lucky to marry Bob and even questioned “Why in the world would he choose me with these legs?”
Given the freedom to paint in a friendly (faces she knows), familiar (neighborhood), functional (only paper, paint, water, and brush), and forgiving (it’s okay to make mistakes) environment, Bette was able to travel through time, and find her way, to a very happy older memory, where in her present, she felt loved. She was successful at sharing a deep, emotionally satisfying memory. With a simple brush, a palate of color, and support, she was able to navigate herself to an extremely meaningful place.
How might you use simple ingredients of an artistic experience, to awaken a meaningful memory of a different place in time, in what was a familiar place?
Leandra Sims has been working with residents who are living with dementia, for The Kensington, at Sierra Madre for the past five years. She became certified as a PAC Certified Independent Coach in 2018 and became a PAC Certified Independent Trainer in 2019. She hopes to continue to share the awareness, knowledge, and skill that PAC has given her.