Creative Aging Pt. 2: Elevating the Artist with Dementia

Just like art, dementia has the power to be transformative. Dr. Gene Cohen taught the world that just because we age, doesn’t mean we lose our ability to create and that even a brain affected by Alzheimer’s still has the capacity to learn, use the imagination, and engage in new tasks.

This is part 2 of a discussion with creative aging expert Deb Campbell and we’re going to hear about some transformative work happening in the space of aging, health, and the touchpoints that the non-profit organization Arts&AGEing KC has with persons living with dementia around the world. There’s been a lot of research on how participating in creative arts as we age has a direct positive impact on health and wellness, particularly for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Deb had the honor of going to Singapore and working with residents in multiple nursing homes many of them living with dementia. Working with a team there, they used performing arts to elevate life experience and demonstrate that regardless of age or ability, each person who participated had an important story to tell and history to share. Deb speaks to the point that even though our societies or cultures may view someone as “limited” in a diagnosis, it was an eye-opening experience for many health professionals in Singapore to see that after all, a dementia diagnosis in no way limited one’s ability to perform in a high-caliber, high-quality piece of performance art.

One of the current projects of Arts&AGEing is their Teaching Artist Collective, which uses different modalities and art disciplines to help artists learn both the theory and practice of delivering engaging and meaningful arts programming with older adults. Working with Kansas City Parks and Recreation, in the heart of the urban core, she has a group of artists that are integrating their art form into life enrichment programming at the Brush Creek Community Center. Deb shares: “There is much laughter, joy and learning from each other as we give voice to life experience and use art processes to do that. We are dispelling ageist stereotypes and myths and these artists are becoming the change agents for that work.” One of the amazing artists in this project is Clarissa Knighten, a jewelry artist who is helping participants turn buttons (that they bring) into pieces of wearable art to showcase their life stories.

“I would like to help people understand jewelry is art. Wearable art, art in every form heals.”

Clarissa Knighten, jewelry artist

In this podcast episode, I don’t share a list of “action steps” like we usually do. But instead, it’s more of an overall “learned life lesson”. I feel like people living with dementia are sorely misunderstood. Although Alzheimer’s and dementia robs one capacity in so many ways – it also heightens and highlights what I consider some of the most valuable attributes human beings have to offer. My friends with dementia have been, and continue to be, some of the greatest spiritual teachers I’ve known. They’ve changed my life and the lives of many others I know because we took the time to stop, listen, and learn the language being spoken. Alzheimer’s or dementia puts many challenges in the way of communication. But it’s inspiring to see someone living with that diagnosis work so hard to overcome those barriers in order to connect, share, and engage in the present moment. If that’s not a life lesson, I don’t know what is.

  1. Join us next time on Life With Dementia, the solution-driven podcast sharing relevant research, personal stories, and practical tips for living well with dementia.

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Show Notes:

Featured image by Nigel Tadyanehondo on Unsplash

Podcast episode music by Blue Dot Sessions “OneEightFour”

Mid-America Arts Alliance | Artists INC

KC Studio | African American Artists Collective

Washington DC Iona Center

“In Memory of Gene Cohen” by Joseph Shapiro, NPR|Your Health

Conversation with Gene Cohen of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities and Gay Hanna of the National Center for Creative Aging