Twenty years ago, Jytte Fogh Lokvig found herself in a quandary. She was doing a favor for a friend: visiting the friend’s mom weekly while the friend was out of the country for three months. The mom lived in a care facility and the first visit went wonderfully. But the second visit was shocking to Jytte.
“Her mom started screaming and cursing,” Jytte says. “I went to the nurses’ station to figure out what was wrong. The nurse told me she had Alzheimer’s.”
Jytte, who had experience in art and working with at-risk youth, knew nothing about dementia. But she started to learn. Using principles she’d employed with youth, she began offering additional activities at the facility.
“I didn’t view people with dementia as sick,” she says. “Everything I planned was directed at the well part of the person.”
She looked for activities that were collaborative rather than competitive, so everyone could bloom with a feeling of accomplishment.
Through the process of creating collectively, people relaxed and became comfortable with the materials. This experience was so fulfilling and moving that Jytte began working with families, guiding them in doing projects together.
Jytte suggests collages because they are easy and there is no right or wrong with collage.
“Collect old magazines, buy a few glue sticks, and break down big boxes to use for cardboard,” she suggests. “Engagement and conversation are the important things; if it never gets beyond discussing a picture of daisies that reminds her of her growing up garden, that’s fine.”
Jytte believes the keys to engagement include giving people enough time, letting them work at their own pace, and offering them consistent opportunities for self-expression.
When possible, invite others to join you for the collage experience. Introduce the project by asking the person with dementia for help, saying, “Hey Mom, I really want to do this project. Want to help me?”
If Mom is reluctant, start the project and mention; “I sure could use your help if you don’t have anything else to do.”
Tear pictures out of colorful magazines.
Let Mom direct the artistic action.
Use the pictures to trigger conversation.
Enjoy the process and don’t worry about a finished product.
Jytte Fogh Lokvig, PhD, is the author of The Alzheimer’s Creativity Project and Alzheimer’s A to Z, Secrets to Successful Caregiving. She is also a founder of the Alzheimer’s Café.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.