Memory-care residents up to their elbows in clay

After getting her tea cup shaped, Joanne begins painting it during the 4th of an 8-week art class funded by a grant from Northern Clay. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
After getting her tea cup shaped, Joanne begins painting it during the 4th of an 8-week art class funded by a grant from Northern Clay. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Oak Meadows resident Dorothy paints her tea cup with some assistance from volunteer Arlys. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Oak Meadows resident Dorothy paints her tea cup with some assistance from volunteer Arlys. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Northern Clay instructor Claire O’Connor works with the residents of Oak Meadows memory care through a grant.  (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Northern Clay instructor Claire O’Connor works with the residents of Oak Meadows memory care through a grant. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Local organization uses art to help seniors

The sound of fists pounding clay fills the dining area in Oak Meadows memory care unit.

Residents busily chat on a Tuesday afternoon as they take part in an eight-week clay course. Claire O'Connor from Northern Clay Center has been helping the seniors create everything from tiles to baskets to animals.

"What's really exciting is there's growing skill, so even though people may or may not remember the event, they do remember the skill," O'Connor says.

This isn't the first hands-on, creative endeavor at Oak Meadows.

Megan Longville, activities director, says the residents are really into art projects lately. Some of the therapeutic art projects are funded through grants, while others take place because Oak Meadows sets money aside for them.

Longville says in the past some memory care residents joined in art projects offered in Oak Meadows' independent and assisted living facilities. This is the first project designed specifically for residents with dementia.

Many of them did art projects at some point in their lives. "A lot of days when they feel like they can't really remember what anything else that's been going on, this comes back to them when they start doing things," Longville says.

It also gives residents a sense of accomplishment when they complete a project.

Outreach manager Chris Singewald says, "Oak Meadow is one of nine partners that Northern Clay Center is reaching through its Minnesota State Arts Board Arts Learning Grant, which is made possible by the voters of Minnesota, a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund."

Molding confidence

Singewald says research shows there are numerous benefits to working with clay and being part of a creative experience for individuals with memory issues.

Those involved begin to think abstractly, develop new skills and gain an appreciation for clay arts.

"Increases in confidence and creative ability have been observed by all of our partners during and beyond our Northern Clay Center clay sessions," Singewald says.

Participants can also improve their cognitive skills, increase socialization while decreasing depression, strengthening arthritic hands and more.

Out of the 13 residents in the memory care unit, roughly 10 show up every week.

O'Connor says at the beginning there was a reluctance to be involved. Clay is new art material for many older folks.

But as the weeks went on, more people stayed for the session, O'Connor says.

Sherry, a memory care resident, enjoys the clay projects. Smiling, she says, "I like molding it."

Ray, another resident, says he likes experimenting with the clay, and explains, "This is something everybody doesn't do."

A project that is started one week isn't returned to the residents until a couple weeks later after it is fired in a kiln. Longville says by then, many residents don't remember making it.

Longville gave a resident back a tile she had made a couple weeks previously.

"When I showed it to her, she goes, 'I'm an artist? I didn't even know I could do that.'"

"She was so proud of herself and she was like, 'Put it on my table. My family needs to see this when they come!'"

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or staffwriter@lillienews.com.
 

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