Nonprofit celebrates dementia patients’ minds - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Nonprofit celebrates dementia patients’ minds

July 8th, 2019 SanTan Sun News
Nonprofit celebrates dementia patients’ minds

By Jordan Houston

Staff Writer

A local nonprofit is creating an outlet for people with cognitive impairments to express themselves through the arts.

Oakwood Creative Care — a club that specializes in dementia care — displayed more than 200 pieces of artwork recently to celebrate the minds of its 40 members living with Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s and other physical and cognitive impairments.

In a cozy room with wooden floors and fairy lights, the Art Gala at the Town Center Campus featured a collection of mixed media pieces, refurbished furniture and a boutique of items for sale, all of which were created by members of the club.

This was the organization’s first attempt at hosting the exhibit in an effort to showcase that dementia is not a “death sentence,” said Oakwood Creative Care President/CEO Sherri Friend.

“I am so proud of our staff for their passion and love for what they do,” she added. “I’m proud of our members and that they have accomplished such incredible things, leaving a legacy for their families with the art they’re creating.”

The organization strives to provide treatment “beyond a pill” by offering “dignifying, engaging and person-centric services,” while stepping away from bingo and other traditional measures.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.8 million Americans are living with the disease — and the number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million by 2050.

Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior and is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Projects involving art and music can create a sense of accomplishment and purpose for those living with dementia, explained Friend.

Art can also provide opportunities for self-expression.

“We’ve found that the creative center of the brain doesn’t deteriorate through the disease process,” she said. “Although somebody may have never picked up a paintbrush before in their life, at this point, they’re able to and use it as their voice.”

“They may not be able to speak, but they can paint amazing works of art,” she continued.

Oakwood Creative Care offers a variety of daily classes for its members to participate in, including painting, woodshop, sculptures, singing and yoga.

Bruce Bartsch was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease —a progressive disease of the nervous system involving tremors, muscular rigidity and slow movement — in 1994.

The Vietnam War veteran has been attending the Creative Care center for a year now, and said his visits have helped keep his mind sharp.

“We don’t do the same things everyday, that would be boring,” said Bruce. “If you keep your cognitive skills pushing, you live more of your life.”

“You can feel the deterioration, but you fight it and you do what you can do to keep it from taking over your life,” he added.

Bruce, the proud owner of one of the largest paintings on display, said he enjoys taking part in the painting classes.

When asked about the inspiration for his piece, which illustrated a mountainous setting marked by hues of bright pinks and yellows, he said it came to him naturally.

“The concept of the skill to actually do it is something I picked up from a magazine,” said the senior. “It just comes to you like any artist, I suppose.”

Heidi Bartsch, Bruce’s wife, said that the couple found Oakwood Creative Care through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs — the federal Cabinet-level agency that provides healthcare services to eligible military veterans.

After several unsuccessful attempts at other daycare centers, she said she was thankful to stumble upon the Mesa nonprofit.

“We’re so grateful that some place like this exists because it makes such a difference in your life,” she said. “To be able to come here and get a good meal, associate with people, exercise and get stimulation — whether its woodworking, arts and crafts, singing or whatever — it’s amazing.”

One of the main goals for the center, said Friend, is to integrate its members with the community as much as possible.

Workers at Oakwood Creative Care are encouraged to wear normal clothes instead of scrubs.

“We don’t ever want them [the members] to feel like they’re a patient, we want them to feel that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves and still a part of the community,” said the CEO, adding:

“Our folks can choose from different classes they’re interested in and that creates a reason to wake up in the morning and a reason to be excited about the day.”