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Wichita Falls Living Magazine

Memories in the Making | Where Art Meets Alzheimer’s

Feb 10, 2020 11:25AM
written by rebecca parvaresh | photos provided by the kemp center & hometown living

Every Tuesday at 10 a.m., Christine Heidebrecht, Education Coordinator for the ACWFA readies the tables and chairs. She lays out the paints while distributing all the brushes to each station and then she waits. She waits for the doors to open and to welcome class participants into the safe haven created at The Forum, located at 2120 Speedway Ave. for the program Memories in the Making: Where Art Meets Alzheimer’s. She welcomes visitors with open arms and helps initiate the painting session. She explained “Our current focus is on watercolor, and one reason is because it doesn’t take mobility and strength to work with watercolor. The caregiver isn’t supposed to touch the patient or move their brush for them, but sometimes it does take a small pressure of putting the hand and brush to paper to help them get started. I currently am the one that leads the classes, which I’m reluctant to call this “a class”.


We don’t expect them to walk away with skills, but rather, an experience.” Sue Gross, Education and Family Care specialist for the Wichita Falls Office of the North Central Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association added, “We don’t care what the final work looks like, there is no critiquing and you are not allowed to touch their work. It is truly their interpretation of what they see and in those times it’s amazing how this shows a glimpse into their world.”

The program is one of many programs offered free of charge by the North Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to families affected by the disease. One in every 3 Americans will have their lives touched by Alzheimer’s at some point according to recent studies. This is just one of the many statistics and reasons Christine and the Arts Council Wichita Falls Area, Inc (ACWFA.)  feels it so important to have a venue for expression for both the caregiver and the person living with Alzheimer’s.


Memories in the Making: Where Art Meets Alzheimer’s, is a weekly program in collaboration with the ACWFA. This local facilitation of a nationwide program is aiming to create a safe place for those affected by the disease to come together with their loved ones and make memories at a time when they become so precious.  Christine remarked, “When you get a big group there you can get them laughing, and you get the sense this may have been the only time all week that they laughed. It’s just such a lovely thing. We currently don’t have a timeline on how long the program will run. As long as the arts council has funding - even if we only get one couple a month, we’re going to keep hosting this event. Because we understand hour by hour, a caregiver’s schedule can change, and we want to make ourselves available as long as possible. Many Tuesdays I’m sitting there alone, because it’s hard for a caregiver to get their loved one up and out the door. We know art has a way of opening up conversations. This gives them the opportunity to remove the stigmas of Alzheimer’s and make memories in a non-threatening environment.”


“We know art has a way of opening up conversations. This gives them the opportunity to remove the stigmas of Alzheimer’s and make memories in a non-threatening environment.”   ~  Christine Heidebrecht | Education Coordinator

Alzheimer’s disease is plagued with common stigmas fueled by the under education of the general population concerning the diseases progression and prognosis. The North Texas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is striving to change the stigmas the disease carries in the communities it serves through this program along with caregiver support groups all free of charge.

“The one thing about this program is it allows a couple, be it spousal or familial, to just be,” Sue said. “Instead of being the one who is always saying no, or always giving the directions - this gives them the opportunity to just be, to enjoy, and not to have any expectations of anyone. That is such a gift with this disease. You’re not teaching painting to someone; you’re giving them the opportunity to do a painting in a safe environment. There are a number of places that are using this program. This program is a bow on top of the package for our caregivers. It was developed by an artist in California, and it involves creating an atmosphere for the caregiver and the one with dementia to have some downtime. We also know when someone with the disease is creating, they are more vocal. We get a chance to ask questions, because when their hands are busy their brains are busy on that activity. Their answers tend to be freer than at other times."


“We don’t care what the final work looks like. It is truly their interpretation of what they see and in those times it’s amazing how this shows a glimpse into their world.”
 ~  Sue Gross  |  Education & Family Care specialist

The local program is also on the search for a new instructor who is passionate about educating others on Alzheimer’s disease. They would be trained by the Alzheimer’s Association but a willingness to open up conversations and support those in all stages of the disease who participate is a great starting point for anyone interested in instructing a class.

“This program provides a service in an area where our resources are very limited,” Sue said. “Which is why I wished with all my heart that more caregivers felt capable of going to these classes but so many of them are just too overwhelmed. Or their loved ones can literally not do it. Unfortunately, they aren’t in that beginning stage of the disease long enough to take advantage of the classes for an extended amount of time. But to partner off with another non-profit is the best of both worlds. We have been able to enjoy some advantages that we wouldn’t’ have known about without the Arts council and Christine has become an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association. The program is free but getting the word out, getting past stigma, and the burnout of caregivers presents challenges. The Arts Council has invested in this though and a program like this provides a brief escape from the disease.”


For both women, they have seen the touching moments had between a mother and daughter or a husband and wife and it leaves them learning just as much about themselves as they do about those participating in the class.


“Most recently I had a gentleman come in and his wife was the one who had dementia,” Christine explained. “When he came in and sat down, he apologized saying ‘my wife was the more creative one, I’m going to have a hard time with this’. It was incredibly sweet to watch; he understood the idea that the more you engage the loved one the better they are so he would say ‘do you love my picture is it ok?’ She was brutally honest at times, but it helps having a third party there to be able to chuckle and brush it off. When he got done, he was excited and felt he was giving something back to his wife. He left and he felt proud he was able to give her something even if was for that hour. Honestly, I feel I walk out every time learning something new. In that time with that gentleman and his wife, you see what your vows mean, when you say in sickness and in health, you see it play out in front of you and you go home and hug your hubby.”  †

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