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.
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.
It will look even lovelier when winter sets in.