Thursday, September 25, 2014

Alzheimer's project: a Garden View

One of my employers asked for a project that was "anything fiber." She showed me pieces in the Assisted Living art room.  I could tell they had been made by more fully functioning hands and minds. How to bring the same processes to my Alzheimer's patients?

With Alzheimer's groups, abilities are all over the map.  I  wanted everyone, even those at the far ends of the spectrum, to feel success.

The Concerns that Shaped This Project

  • Impaired vision.  Alzheimer's can make it hard to interpret shapes. Dark objects on a light ground made designs easier to "read."
  • Arthritic hands. Don't assume people can (or can't) use scissors. I cut out leaves and flowers  defined enough to satisfy some folks, but loose enough to encourage others, who could, to "edit" them. Also, I brought my good fabric scissors.
  • Immobility. For many, movement is a struggle. After considering several ways to  make the project collaborative (rotate the pieces among students? Work together in the middle of the table?) I borrowed from the quilt tradition, and  pre-cut background squares to distribute.
  • Unreliable short-term memory.  A surprising lesson has been that gluing can confuse Alzheimer's folks. Too many steps. So I pre-fused all fabric and brought my own iron, then pressed each collage as it was finished.
  • The blank page problem. An empty page stops folks. To guide participants, I adhered "stems" to each block beforehand. This also embedded an over-all design, so the pieces worked well together.
  • Life in a locked ward. All those walls. I wanted this piece to feel like a virtual window.
I tested the idea with another class. Biggest discovery: The most mentally adept worked carefully, trimming shapes and perfecting placement.
More impaired students filled the page and finished quickly.
So I prepared lots of materials and brought at least two background squares for each artist. On the big day, each person completed at least one square. The most impaired artists finishing three pieces each. I wrote their names down on the pieces as they finished.

Several folks stayed afterwards, to look at the finished pieces. They marveled at how good everything looked together. We talked about different ways to organize them.  Amazing. For me, perhaps the most satisfying moment.

The next week, I sewed the squares together, fused and stitched the result to batting, then backed, bound and labeled it. I took the piece to a long meeting, where I embroidered the residents' names.  A sleeve and wired board readied it for hanging.

 It will look even lovelier when winter sets in.