Every 67 seconds, someone from the United States is diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia. The diagnosis doesn't just affect the person with the disease and their loved ones, but also those who provide them care, whether that be a family member or a hired professional.
It is the caregivers who often get overlooked when discussing issues around treatment and care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients. Annie VanGelderen, President and CEO of the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center,
noticed this when the BBAC began offering an arts therapy program specifically for Alzheimer's and dementia patients in 2014.
The program – Meet Me @ the BBAC – was designed to inspire creative mind functioning in the early and mid-stages of the disease, promoting well-being and bolstering a stronger sense of self-esteem while also strengthening the patient/caretaker relationship. Patients are accompanied by their caregivers, whether a paid professional or a loved one, and they work on an art project based on what they had been shown in the beginning of the session to create dialogue and stimulate their senses.
"What we found was after a few sessions the care partners wanted to create their own works," VanGelderen explains. "We said, 'Of course you can,' and they began working alongside the person they care for. We started to notice that the caregivers were all forming a bond through talking to each other. It's their form of respite when they come here."
She and her team realized that art therapy is not only beneficial to those with dementia, but it was also beneficial to the caregivers as well. They decided to create a program specifically for caregivers, both professionals and those taking care of relatives, called the Art of Caregiving, a free visual arts respite program for those tending to elderly patients with Alzheimer's and dementia.
"It's a growing population," VanGelderen says. "People are living longer and the Baby Boomers are aging. There needs to be more awareness of the growing population of caregivers; they take on that load of taking care of that person, and even for professional caregivers it's still not a high-paying job and they carry on that stress. What happens to caretakers is that their lives get so wrapped up in the person they're taking care of that they forget to take care of themselves."
Caregivers can suffer from feelings of stress, depression, and isolation as a result of their roles. The Art of Caregiving seeks to alleviate that through the use of visual arts, and all participants receive a take-home kit containing materials and supplies related to each session for sharing and use at home.
"This gives them a few hours of respite so that can have the opportunity and tools to be able to meet their own self-care needs," says VanGelderen. "With the little kit all the materials of what they did at the Art Center they can continue to explore it at home or use it to engage with the person they are caring for."
The Art of Caregiving is a series of sessions that runs year-round with four different series annually. The first series will start on November 17. The same sessions are offered in the morning and evening in an effort to be as flexible as possible and accommodate professionals and home care givers, and they run every other week except around the holidays. Each series includes sessions on art-making, visual journaling, and information connecting art making, respite, and the role of the caregiver.
Each series also incorporates time for socializing and supportive networking.
"It is our hope that eventually they will develop their own support network from these sessions," says VanGelderen. "It's amazing how that dynamic evolves with time."
This free program, made possible by a generous grant from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
, is open to all caregivers both paid and unpaid regardless of age, race, gender, income, geography, or art-making background – meaning a person does not need to be an artist to participate.
Each session can accommodate up to 20 participants and advance registration is required. More information is available on the BBAC website