In 2002 while serving as the Executive Director of a Nursing Home in Tennessee, I was asked by our Regional Vice President to add some decorative art to the hallways of this 203-bed nursing home.
In response, I asked our Activities Director to initiate a painting class for the residents. She was reluctant at first, but I assured her that I would purchase the canvases, paint, brushes, frames, and other needed supplies. The paint would be acrylic, so it was not terribly messy and was not toxic. She agreed and began the art class, starting with our most alert and oriented residents who created some great works of art. All of the resident paintings were signed, dated, framed and hung to brighten our halls.
Shortly after, one of the Activity Assistants decided to try the painting class in our Special Care Unit with residents diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. On her first attempt at this activity, she had a few residents painting and was elated that we had found something new for them to do. One resident, *Ronald Jones, who was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, was not able understand how to grasp the paint brush, dip it into paint and apply the paint to the canvas. After working with him for quite a while, the Activities Assistant had a great idea. She placed latex gloves on Mr. Jones’ hands and showed him how to rub his hands in the paint and then onto the canvas. He was then able to complete the painting you see here:
It was framed and I shared with the other staff this Activity Assistant’s brilliant idea of having Mr. Jones don gloves so he could participate. The staff became energized and began to try different ways to encourage other residents to paint. We continued to hand the resident paintings in the halls and family members and visitors loved seeing the work of their loved ones and friends. I made such a big deal of Mr. Jones painting that it was hung in my office for the duration of my time there. As I prepared to leave this job for my next assignment, I returned the painting to our Activities Director. At the farewell event in my honor that painting was given to me at the request of Mr. Jones’ wife, and it now hangs in my office in the Columbus, GA regional office of the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter.
That painting was the impetus for more residents and staff members to become involved in the art classes. It has always meant a great deal to me and regularly I receive comments from visitors in my office and I tell the story of Mr. Jones and the lesson we learned from his painting. This summer, the Alzheimer’s Association plans to begin collaboration with the Columbus Museum in hopes of having more masterpieces created by persons with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. For me, the legacy of *Ronald Jones will continue.
David Marlowe is the Program Director at the Columbus Regional Office of the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals