My new series “The Rhythms of Memory” is inspired by my journey with my mother as she struggled with dementia – arguably the most feared disease that happens to be incurable. This is the story behind the painting you see above.
I began the painting with multiple layers, adding texture as I went along, representing the abundance of plaques and tangles found in the brain of dementia patients.
One question I constantly hear from those with dementia is “What time is it?” In fact, losing track of time is an early symtom of dementia, they often loose track of dates and even the seasons of the year. As the dementia progresses, routine and structure become more important to them, it helps ease their anxiety and confusion. Knowing all of this, I placed a clock face into the painting.
I also painted a hill with the steps, illustrating the daily struggles they face. The steps have a rhythm that mimics the notes on a piano keyboard – this was intentional. Music has been proven to improve memory. Watch the short video I posted below of Henry’s transformation after hearing one of his favorite musicians, Cab Calloway.
“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” Plato
This is something we have known for a very long time. After all, Plato lived from 427-347 BC!
Do particular songs evoke certain memories? Have you ever reacted to music the way Henry does in the above video? I’d love to know about it!
I used the term “dementia”. Alzheimers accounts for 60-80% of all dementia cases (depending which study is referenced). Click here if you want to read the !0 Early Signs of Alzheimers.
I am leading a weekly art project with memory impaired women. Because each project teaches me what works and doesn’t work, I decided to document these projects.
The first project was creating a “MY FAVORITE THINGS” board, which was based on the Vision Board concept. They had great fun going through magazines and pulling out images of their favorite things.
Miss Lilliette with her “Favorite Things” board. Notice the musical notes – she played the piano at church most of her life!
This was a great way to get to know them! I learned what their favorite colors were, I learned which ones played the piano and which ones sang.
Miss Dorothy (pictured above) couldn’t wait to get her board home to have it framed! I learned she had been a professional singer in Los Angeles and held singing and acting workshops for aspiring actors! (working with Bob Barker no less!)
Miss Willa with her favorite things.
Miss Willa great up on a farm in Alabama. She told the best day of her life was the day her father told her he was tired of farming and they were all moving to Atlanta!
What did I learn?
First of all, I teach vision board workshops – and as a result I have a HUGE stash of magazines. I learned that two to three magazines PER PERSON to choose from would have been worked. Too many choices makes it difficult for them to make any choices.
I purchased poster boards from The Dollar Store (2 for $1.00). Cutting these in half was enough room for them to work with.
Also, stick glue works better, especially the kind that goes on purple and dries clear. They can see they are using the glue. Liquid glue was just too messy for many of them.
I learned they want BLING! Sequins or anything shiny is a must.
When I told them we would do a collage the next week, I was met with blank stares – they didn’t know what a collage was! So – next week I will give them a lesson on collage, and show them the work of Romare Bearden! Giving them a weekly art lesson is going to be fun, I will learn more about African American artists and share it with them.
If you have any lessons you have learned, I’d love to hear about it!
I am not really a dessert person, but I loved mom’s Orange Tapioca Salad, even though I would classify it as a pudding. Mom made this for every family event – what I considered a staple. But when I decided to use her recipe, I found the ingredients hard to find. In fact, I had to order the tapioca pudding on-line! I will continue the tradition and make it for special events. In fact, I have a solo art show coming up, and because the show is inspired by and dedicated to my mom, I think I’ll whip up a batch and take it. The show was also inspired by dementia, you can read more about it here.
When I was looking around for the tapioca pudding mix, I realized I have always heard of tapioca, but what is it really? Tapioca is a starch that is extracted from the Cassava root.
While similar to yucca, the cassava and the yucca are not the same plant. It is a starchy tuberous root that is native to South America, and is now grown around the world. It is one of the most drought-tolerant in the world.
Dementia and Alzheimers are probably the most feared incurable diseases there are. As the people are living longer and the population is aging, most of us will be affected by some form of dementia. This series is inspired by my mother’s journey into dementia.
I begin each painting with multiple layers achieving a tactile surface. The layers are symbolic of the abundance of plaques and tangles that are found in the brain of Alzheimers/Dementia patients.
Each piece represents a different aspect of what I observed during mom’s struggle.
The first is the isolation and the feeling of invisibility patients frequently experience. A figure is painted on a multi-layered textured background. The entire surface is painted out and with mark making the figures begin to emerge from the background, while still being faint and translucent.
Some paintings illustrate the confusion that comes with this disease.I make seemingly random marks creating chaos. Using pen and ink, the lines and dots are connected bringing order to the composition.
Connect the Dots – 18×24
Let Me Call you Sweetheart, 8×10 collage, framed 11×14
There are also a series of collages illustrating the power of music, which has been proven to be an effective treatment to help patients access their memory. As the grand-daughter of both a piano tuner and music teacher, this is close to my heart. Each collage included is based on a particular song that has been proven to be effective.
The inspiration for the piece on the right is a powerful story. A woman had been verbally unresponsive for a year. But, when we heard this song on the piano, she began humming along, ultimately singing the words. They found this was the song used in her wedding.
The work shows those with dementia can still be present and they still have stories to share.
For the opening on April 21, 2018, two pieces will be auctioned and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to the Georgia Alzheimers Association.
These pieces are valued at $600 apiece.
If you have any stories to share, please put them in the comments.
This is my first Thanksgiving without my mother. I feel the quote below from Dr. Seuss says it all!
“Don’t cry because it is over. Smile because it happened.”
Since today is Thanksgiving, this seems to be a good time to make a commitment to cooking her recipes and ultimately compiling them into a cookbook for her family.
I have chosen a sweet potato dish, which we always referred to at Thanksgiving as a Sweet Potato Souffle’. It was a staple of our Thanksgiving meal for as long as I can remember. However, I’m not sure why it was called a souffle’, because it doesn’t remotely resemble the definition of a souffle’ below.
“A soufflé is a baked egg-based dish which originated in early eighteenth century France. It is made with egg yolks and beaten egg whites combined with various other ingredients and served as a savory main dish or sweetened as a dessert.”
In fact, the recipe is so old, the word souffle’ has been scratched out and replaced with the word “dish”. This was a staple for many years during the holidays and it never failed to please! But, the recipe itself changed over the years – for instance, 1 1/2 cups of sugar has dwindled to 3/4 cup of sugar – I can’t imagine how sweet this would have been with that much sugar in it.
The dish itself is only 7 ingredients, It is a pretty simple recipe, but a very tasty dish. You can download the recipe HERE.
Yes, in the month of read a book about an allegory (in a painting), a biography of an author that wrote many books under an alias, and three books about Alzheimers. THE DITCHDIGGER’S DAUGHTERS by Yvonne Thornton MD – This inspiring book was written by one six daughters born to a laborer that worked two 8 hour jobs for 25 years. Donald Thornton wanted all of his daughters to become doctors and be successful independent black women. This is the journey of a family, even becoming a successful band, The Thornton Sisters. Mr. Thornton’s was tough, he was strict, but he gave out the wisest and wittiest advice! All of his daughters succeeded. Did they all become doctors? You’ll have to read it to find out. Here is a little clip of the band.
THE THINGS WE KEEP by Sally Hepworth – This was a book club selection – in fact, I went to an encore discussion that was demanded by members that missed the first discussion. Anna Forster has early onset Alzheimers, diagnosed at age 38, Her twin brother moves her into Rosalind House, where she meets Luke, who is near her age. When their relationship turns romantic, a tragic incident causes their families to keep them separated. Is Anna capable of falling in love? Is she be taken advantage of?
There is a supporting older lovable, but quirky elderly characters. The home’s new cook, Eve, gets involved in Anna and Luke’s story and breaks rules to keep them together. Eve’s seven year old daughter understands some of the older people better than anyone. It is written in a non-linear structure, and this mimic’s Anna’s growing disorientation. But it also keeps you wondering about what really happened. All is revealed in the end. Surprisingly, the book isn’t maudlin, some of it is downright funny. While there is no happy ending today for anyone with Alzheimers, I did feel gratified at the end for the future of Anna and Luke.
STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova – I know – you are probably thinking, wasn’t the previous book enough? Alice, a world-renowned linguist professor at Harvard, diagnosed with Alzheimers at age 50, with a husband that equally as successful. It is written with a third eye, but the story is told mostly through Alice’s point of view. It starts with Alice innocently forgetting things that she thinks are due to menopause and her busy life. When she gets lost and forgets appointments, she seeks help without telling anyone. Of course, the news is devastating and she has to share it. Because you see most of the book through Alice’s eyes, you see her increasing confusion over the course of the book. The climax of the book is a speech she delivers to the Annual Dementia Care Conference.
“Being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s is like being branded with a scarlet A. But I am not what I saw or what I do or what I remember. I am fundamentally more than that..Please don’t look at our scarlet A’s and write us off.”
The book shows the family adjusting their lives and making compromises. It is told honestly and compassionately. But, there is no happy ending with this disease.
Lisa Genova has a Ph.D. in neuroscience, so she did her research. This is a self-published book which she sent to the Alzheimer’s Association, which endorsed the book.
Yes, I cried. No, I haven’t seen the movie. I will some day, just not today.
THE RED LEATHER DIARY – by Lily Koppel – This was part of a challenge from a group to read a biography by a woman about a woman (of course, I read more than one). Lily Koppel finds a red leather diary locked away in a steamship trunk. It is the the diary of Frances Wolfsen, one she wrote in daily from 1929 through 1934. Not a single day was missed!
Here is a story of a gilded age of the upper West Side. Florence lunched with her friends, went to the nightclub El Morocco at night, shopped at Bergdorf’s, road horses at the Claremont Riding Academy and more. She tells of her first kiss (to a boy), her infatuation with with a famous actress, the starting of a literary salon in her parents apartment. Even though she is a somewhat spoiled headstrong girl, she is also creative and intelligent.
Koppel searched for Florence, even hiring a private detective. She eventually locates her in her 90’s in Florida and reunites her with her long-forgotten diary. It was a fun book to read!
La Primavera – Botticello
BOTTICELLI’S SECRET – by Marina Fiorato – You know you are in trouble when you have to print out the picture of the painting the book is about! This was a book club selection – and it is a book club of women artist’s. It was billed at The DaVinci Code meets The Birth of Venus. But, the painting at the center of the mystery is not the Birth of Venus, but La Primavera. taking place in the 15th century, with prostitute Luciana Vetra posing for the above painting (she is the figure in the center). When Botticelli doesn’t pay her, she steals an unfinished version of the painting. As the bodies pile up, she turns to a priest, and together they go to nine cities in Italy. Are there really secrets embedded in the painting? There has been much speculation about the hidden meanings found in this painting, and this is an interesting take on it. But, the first part is a little tedious, the language profane and explicit. Yes, Luciana’s potty mouth gets tedious, and I found her language a little too modern at times. (I even looked up several words to see if they were used in the 15th century!). And I learned Italy wasn’t unified as a country until 1815.
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT: A Personal Biography by Susan Cheever – The book I often credit with giving me life long love of reading is Little Women. It was also my mother’s favorite book, she tried to name me Jo when I was born (my father said no daughter of his would have the name of a boy). So, when I was challenged to read a biography about a woman, written by a woman, I was delighted for find this one. It is a fascinating portrait about an intriguing time of American literature. Her father was a transcendental teacher. When she was young, the family moved to Concord, Massachusetts. It seems whenever the family had financial problems and had to move (which was often), Ralph Waldo Emerson came to their financial help. Other family friends included Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorn. Louisa went to work early as a teacher and seamstress. During the Civil War, she was a nurse in in Georgtown DC for six weeks. catching typhoid, and while she recovered, her health suffered the rest of her life. Her letters home were collected for her first critical recognition. The family also worked for the Underground Railroad.
The most surprising thing I learned is she published sensational pulp fiction under the name A.M. Barnard, a fact that wasn’t discovered until after her death. Incidentally, she died two days after her father – in fact, they had the same birthday.
Alcott resisted writing the book Little Women. Read here 10 things you may not know about Little Women!
BEFORE I FORGET: LOVE, HOPE, HELP AND ACCEPTANCE IN OUR FIGHT AGAINST ALZHEIMERS by B. Smith and Dan Gasby – This book was recommended to me by someone in my Alzheimer’s Support Group. It is the story of B. Smith, model, restauranteur, author, and talk show host. She is diagnosed at a fairly early age, 65-66. Much of the book is written by her husband, Dan Gasby, along with Vanity Fair contributing editor Michael Shanayerson. It is an honest account of the journey, told by her husband Dan, with portions written by B. herself. But it is also a true love story. It is sprinkled in with hard research, lessons on dealing with, and again love. I’m going to end this with a quote from B herself:
“I know where I’m going. I’m still myself. I just can’t remember things as well as I once did. So on short trips, I work hard not to be confused. I’ll say to myself, What are we going to do? How long are we staying? It’s like I’m talking to my other self—the self I used to be. She tells me, This is what we need to buy—not that. I’m conscious of that other self guiding me now.”
Watch this short video of B. and her husband – it only 2 minutes long.
As you may know, my mother is in memory care now. It is a long journey. The people with the disease need advocates, they can’t speak for themselves. Research for the drugs can run into the billions of dollars.
What can you do? Consider registering with the Brain Health Registry – it is easy, and it is free. And it will help with understanding the disease and hopefully for a cure, because with this disease, no one gets well, no one gets out, at least not now.
My niece Mallory is doing the Walk to End Alzheimers. Consider making a donation, no amount is too small. Click on her page here to read what she has wrote. Think about it, if you haven’t been touched by the disease, consider yourself lucky, for now.
If you have anything to share about this subject, leave me a comment. I will read them all!