Chicago Tribune - May 2, 2014 - Suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Edie mostly stayed in her room at a senior living center for those with memory impairments.
She didn't want to attend cooking, gardening or other classes offered there, according to Sue Kruse, senior director of clinical education at Silverado Senior Living. Then a staff member brought an easel, a canvas and some paint into her room.
"From there it blossomed," Kruse said.
Soon, Edie was painting with her fellow residents outdoors, coming out of her room and enjoying her artwork, Kruse said.
Silverado owns 30 senior living centers nationwide including one in Morton Grove, Highland Park and Lake Zurich where residents are offered the chance to delve into art.
Art therapy offers residents "a way to express themselves, especially when language skills are limited, which can be the case with those who have memory impairments," she said.
Recent studies have shown, according to Kruse that art therapy can improve self-esteem, engage long-term memory and ease depression.
Several times a week, residents at the Morton Grove, Highland Park and Lake Zurich Silverado locations meet in a room to join the Brush Strokes Club. They are given a blank canvas, some water colors, and all the leeway they want to create.
Ning Kong, a former mechanical engineer now living at the Morton Grove location, said he likes the Brush Strokes Club because, "I can just sit down and do whatever I want to do."
Indeed, said Morton Grove site administrator Samantha Johnson of Evanston, "We don't tell them what colors to use or what to paint."
Seated with several other residents in a sunlit room, Kong dabbed deep blue-green colors on his canvas – his artwork has prompted him to talk about the differences between Eastern and Western art, said art therapist Samantha Kanelstein.
A graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago with a master's degree in art therapy, Kanelstein said another resident she recalls used to be shy. He wasn't interested in art projects, but one day he came to her class.
Now he's chatting with fellow residents about how someday his artwork will be shown at the Art Institute, she said. He gets so engrossed in his work, Kanelstein said, that she's had to pull him away so he'll get to lunch on time.
"Creating art gives the residents a sense of accomplishment," she said. "Sometimes they get frustrated, not being able to express themselves verbally. But here they can express themselves on canvas."
Art therapy also enhances cognitive function, said Kruse.
"Art therapy triggers some of those old memories that are hidden in the brain. They might be able to draw something they are not verbally able to talk about," she said.
For example, a Lake Zurich Silverado resident recently painted a cabin in the woods filled with snow. The staff later learned from the resident's family that they used to spend time at a cabin in winter, recalling one year when a blizzard struck.
"I've been with Silverado for 15 years," Kruse said. "I have seen the results of art therapy in terms of decreasing depression, giving residents a new excitement about life and decreasing negative behaviors."
Residents sometimes go into other rooms and take personal belongings or they become aggressive toward others, she said.
"By getting them involved in art, it keeps them busy and occupied – that tends to decrease these negative behaviors," she said.
Creating art also gives the residents a sense of purpose, Kanelstein said.
"Sometimes they don't think they have much to offer," she said.
Silverado schedules periodic Wine & Watercolor Mixers, where family and community members can see the residents' artwork and bid on it.
Residents from the Highland Park, Lake Zurich and Morton Grove locations recently submitted art work to be auctioned at an event in April, and every piece sold.
The residents raised $1,600 and the proceeds are being given to the Alzheimer's Association.
Resident Elizabeth Okerholm's didn't remember that one of her paintings sold at the event, but she said she did remember going out the other night.
Kanelstein gently reminded her that her art had sold for more than $100.
Okerholm dabbed deep blue color onto her canvas, then looked at her subject, a blue vase filled with colorful flowers.
"I just like to be able to create something," she said.
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