Opening Minds Through Art

I wonder, why do we always forget more when we age? Sure there’re scientific reasons researchers found to explain the phenomenon of dementia, but I feel as if the seniors in our society are deemed as outcasts. Why does our society only treasure the youth and working demographs, and just toss our elders into a senior home? I really dislike the idea of them.

In my culture, and many others as well, elders are valued, and it would be our duty as younger individuals to take care of them. I would never even consider putting my grandparents into a senior home. I feel as though that action would mean to cast away the bonds you created with them. Although, I know many would disagree with this point, but I guess it was just the way I was brought up; you take care of them to the very end.

Opening Minds through Art; in other words, OMA–the program for seniors to help them better cope with their dementia. Currently, I am volunteering at the Bow View Manor Senior Home. The program consists of a volunteer pairing up with a senior, and then doing an art project once a week. My partner (who’s a really nice lady), is part of the secure unit; her dementia is 3/6, which is a measurement for how much a person is in the stages of dementia.

My experience walking through the secure unit floor was a bit, in fact, scary. As I walked down the hallway following one of the workers, I heard screams and wailing from some of the rooms. I heard, “Don’t come near me!” Repeated multiple times in a row, and one man visibly shaking as he walked to the table for some water. The cruelest, and unwanted thoughts invaded my head; how were they living? Their memories are forgotten almost in an instant. They mutter to themselves, seeking attention. One senior called out to me, asking what my name was, pleading with me to come talk to her. I felt as though they were barely hanging onto the strings of life, and were merely existing. The room’s atmosphere is almost unbearable with the smell of rubbing alcohol, loneliness, medicine, and death. It was total chaos. My partner was too tired to meet with me that day, so I didn’t get a chance to see her. The secure unit was so much more different than the other floors; I felt relieved as my group left the floor and headed back to the office.

The next week, I met my partner, shook her warm hands and smiled, as we were taught to do. It was an absolute pleasure to work with her; she was so sweet. Her presence felt a bit like the little old grannies you know who baked cookies all time. She was a former artist, an oil painter, and she told me all about her stories of selling her pieces. I grinned as I watched her paint the background of the piece and showered glitter all over the page. She kept saying that it wasn’t really nice, and that it was the first time doing this sort of thing. The instructors told us to encourage them to like their picture, and compliment them as much as possible. We were also instructed to name the piece at the end, and she kept saying it was a mess. I took the reins and asked her if she wanted to name it “Sparkles”, because she called the glitter sparkles instead of glitter. (You see, I am very very bad at making up titles.) In the end, however, as she continued to murmur how messy it was, we decided to name it a “Beautiful Mess” instead. My partner repeated over and over that I was a good teacher, and each time I beamed at her and said thank you.

However, the program consisted of singing a song at the beginning of the project and the end. One was, “This Little Light of Mine”, and “You are My Sunshine”. I found that the songs were a bit too much..? The songs kind of sounded like children’s songs, and I felt that it wasn’t really respectful to treat the seniors like children. Although, my partner thoroughly enjoyed singing both songs, so I won’t think too much about it.

Another interesting fact the workers told us was that the seniors’ dementia would worsen during the time of the full moon, or when the weather is drab or cloudy. One of the workers sensed our disbelief and reassured us that it was true and scientifically proven. It blew my mind to learn about that, and it made me wonder how connected people were to nature.

The second week I came once again, and I was happy to learn that she remembered who I was (She didn’t remember my name however, but I was glad nonetheless). This week, we were instructed to tape yarn over the page, paint over it, and dab metallic colours  (and add glitter, of course). My partner had more trouble doing this week’s project, and she kept asking me what I would do. I encouraged her that it was beautiful, and she named it, “Flies in the Dark”.  After the session, I pushed her wheelchair back to the secure unit, but this time I was calm. So far, I have enjoyed being with her, and will continue to be her partner for the next 6 weeks of the program! One of the workers further explained that the floor was kind of like a “locked floor”, in case the seniors wandered around and ended up somewhere they didn’t know. The head worker gave her closing remarks, and I walked back to school in the rain.


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8 thoughts on “Opening Minds Through Art

  1. Dearest Kelley,

    Boy have I missed having you in my family group, but I am also happy that I get to read your blog pieces!

    Thank you for writing this piece – my grandfather was in a Senior’s Home following his stroke and I am very thankful for being exposed to your perspective on the living conditions and your personal experience with volunteering. I remember when I first volunteered at my Papa’s home. I remember feeling angry, sad, and completely helpless, which is similar to how felt when you said, “I felt as though they were barely hanging onto the strings of life, and were merely existing.”

    Additionally, throughout this piece your diction made me feel as if I was just having a conversation with you , rather than reading a polished blog piece. Well done! It has been an absolute pleasure to see your growth in AP.

    You also spoke of your feelings pertaining to the songs that the seniors would sing, “I found that the songs were a bit too much..? The songs kind of sounded like children’s songs, and I felt that it wasn’t really respectful to treat the seniors like children. ” I would just like to offer, through my personal experience, that the songs help the elderly who are struggling with speech. I know that for my grandpa, the songs were a way for him to use his facial muscles in an attempt to sing along to the tunes.

    In terms of improvement, I would offer that you look more into the research and add the citations to your piece. By adding the research, your piece will also be longer, which is another improvement that I would offer. Other than that, never stop writing!

    All the love,


    1. Dearest Victoria,

      I have also missed having you in my family group, and I sometimes wish you were still in my group, but I am happy to still get to talk to you! 🙂

      Thanks so much for your comment, it touched my heart that I was able to write something that you could relate to. And as you said, my writing is usually just me voicing my thoughts out, so I appreciate you recognizing that it was more of a conversation than an actual writing piece.

      I also appreciate you telling me about the purpose of singing the songs; I didn’t realize that, and I will take your advice for researching more!

      Thank you so much for your comment once again!

      Smiles and hugs,


  2. Dear Kelley,

    Coming from a cultural background that is heavily family-oriented as well, I was brought up to believe in our duty, as the younger generation, to care for our elders until the very end. Leaving them in the hands of other people was virtually unheard of, and like you, I struggled to imagine why anybody would be willing to leave their grandparents in retirement homes. However, as I began to gain more years of experience in a culture different from my own, I started to see the value of the community provided by these facilities, as well as the support and care that the families of some seniors may not be able to give. Your piece was very interesting to read, and thanks to your descriptions, I was introduced to a practice that I was unfamiliar with, given the culture I grew up in.

    In terms of your writing, I found it rather refreshing as it was honest and quite sincere. You were unafraid to express your opinions, and this gave the piece a welcome character that wouldn’t have been present if it was written like a polished blog post. Furthermore, your use of an anecdote made the piece easier to relate to, as you appealed to your audience’s sense of compassion. Your utilization of sensory imagery painted very vivid images in my mind, especially in the sentence “As I walked down the hallway following one of the workers, I heard screams and wailing from some of the rooms…[I saw] one man visibly shaking as he walked to the table for some water…The room’s atmosphere is almost unbearable with the smell of rubbing alcohol, loneliness, medicine, and death. It was total chaos.” Through your diction, you were able to generate a mood of dread or unease, which accurately describes the feelings many people share as they walk through the halls of a retirement home. In a way, it made me experience something I was unfamiliar with; like the best of stories, your piece immersed me in a world different from the one I knew, and for that, I thank you.

    In terms of improvement, I didn’t find much for you to work on, aside from a few trivial things. In your sentence, “Sure there’s scientific reasons…” I suggest paying close attention to a noun’s singularity versus its plurality (“there are” instead of “there’s”), though this is a very common mistake. I also spotted one typo in your sentence “One if the workers…” However, aside from these specifics, there is nothing detrimental in your piece!

    All in all, I enjoyed reading your blog post. It allowed me to see the range of perspectives on the practicality of seniors’ homes, especially since I grew up in a culture where retirement homes are fairly uncommon and where children are expected to care for their aging parents. I also appreciate the way you ended your composition; by using the imagery of rain, you conveyed a sense of renewal and rebirth. Perhaps, in an ironic way, retirement homes serve as places for rejuvenation, a place where a former artist can find the passion that once filled her youth with wild fantasies and where one can still find pleasure in music, even if only in the sweet songs of childhood.

    Ever yours,

    1. Dearest Jieo,

      Thank you so much for your comment! As always, your words have an eloquent and polite demeanor, and I enjoyed reading it very much.

      I am happy that I could write my experience through my own eyes, and have someone relate to it at the same time. I also appreciate you commenting on the sincerity of my piece, as I always value and prefer the truth, rather than adding sugar to my words.

      I also thank you for pointing out my GUMPS, and I’ll of course fix it.

      All in all, your comment also allowed me to see another’s perspective toward senior homes, and I thank you once again for your wonderful comment!

      Ever yours,


  3. Dearest Kelley,

    I think a related immediately to this because we were brought up under a similar belief system when it comes to family; I was told when I was young that one of the worst things I could do in my life is turn my back on the people who raised me. It was always treated as a sort of betrayal if you didn’t take care of the ones who spent so much time looking after you.
    I think that spending the last 10 years in Canada has shifted my views on the matter, however; maybe I have simply become more pessimistic than before, but sometimes I suspect that there are some people who see taking care of the elderly as a burden, especially during hard economic times.

    As for the questions you posed in the beginning about why seniors are not valued in our society: this may just be the cynic’s answer, but I would be willing to argue that the reasons have a lot to do with capitalism and the fact that the majority of our world is built on money. But I digress.

    I do have some knowledge about the power of art in the therapeutic and healing context, and so I am glad that there are programs like this out there. An aspect of normalcy is lost whenever we have to deal with illnesses or disabilities, but we fail to realize that we all crave the security it provides. A creative pursuit helps to restore that sense, so I am happy to know that the seniors’ home has taken advantage of its power.

    As for the specifics of the blog itself, I have to say that I loved it! There is almost a journal-like feel to this piece because it is rooted in reality, and the blog seems a lot like a conversation we would have in real life. I could see, with clarity, the inner workings of your brain with this piece, and your take-aways from the experience so far were well balanced and thoughtful.

    For suggestions, I would offer perhaps adding in the links for the picture citations, and maybe fleshing out some of the things you touched on briefly in the little “exposition” part (such as what the 3/6 means for stages of dementia – it may help people who aren’t as aware of the kesser-known effects of dementia).

    I will end this by telling you that I am truly happy to have you as a friend – your writing continues to inspire me, and I hope we can continue to support each other through the rest of our time together!

    Forever your friend,

  4. Dearest Tarannum,

    Thank you so much for your comment-it touched my heart. I also appreciate you answering my question from a cynic’s point of view. It was a realistic response, and I’m glad that you expressed your opinion openly!

    I am overjoyed to hear that you are are happy to have me as a friend. I don’t usually hear things like this from anyone. In turn, I am also truly happy to have you as a friend as well!

    Forever your friend,


    P.S. Also, thanks for reminding me about the citations- I never remember to put them there.

  5. Kelly –

    I always love reading about someone’s experiences volunteering. I myself am a huge volunteer, but I have never had the pleasure of working with the elderly. All my work has always been with children and youth. This was a new perspective that I am not used to. When someone is young, their set of worries and concerns are vastly different than someone who is older. I was able to relate myself to this piece very closely, yet there were parts that I was totally unfamiliar with. For example, your feeling of uncertainty when you were inside the building, surrounded by wails and yells. All I have ever known was laughter and giggling, so I was surprised to read this. It has taught me a lot. You make me feel encouraged to find some of my own programs that I can work directly with older men and women.

    I’m so glad that you had the bravery to face this situation with a kind and open heart. There are so many people who would become frustrated or unmotivated in your position, working with people who suffer from dementia. All I can suggest for improvement is to take a good read over your work before posting, as there were some sentences where your misuse of GUMPS took away from the effect of your post. I know where you’re coming from, I often have this fault too. (For example, your second sentence is lacking a comma. Small things like these are honestly all I can find in a piece so wonderfully written)

    Thank you for your insights! You have given me a new way of looking at my volunteer work.

  6. Dear Kelley,
    This piece of yours has really affected me. It’s really amazing that you’ve involved yourself in the care of senior citizens, and I especially love that you’re using art to do this.
    I definitely agree with you that seniors deserve better than to be marginalized or forgotten – in my culture, too, we grow up with the mentality that our elders above all others are to be respected and cared for. But I do think there is something to be said for senior’s homes, and I personally don’t think of them as cruel or depressing. My own grandmother, who lives with a neurological condition causing her entire body to be paralyzed – though her mental faculties are totally intact – lives in a nursing home. And I think having her live there is a good thing because she’s being given the best care possible, care that my family would never be able to provide. So I do have to disagree with you about senior’s homes – in my experience, they have less to do with casting away our grandparents or severing bonds with them, and more to do with giving them the quality of life that they so deserve.
    Your voice was so present in this piece, and I really liked how open and sincere you were about everything. It made the piece feel so more personal and intimate! I admire your ability to use pathos and to be so emotionally open in your writing. It’s beautiful that you can write with such loving honesty.
    I loved your ending – the rain was a really powerful symbol, as was mentioned in an above comment, for renewal, like it was cleansing away pain and confusion. I would have liked to see you work with this more; if the rain had been used throughout – potentially to represent other things as well, like depression, fear, and coldness – the ending would have stood out that much more. Working in these kinds of unifying symbols and images would also go a long way to make your writing feel more complete and polished; as much as I like the simplicity of your writing, as a reader, it would be satisfying to see you flesh it out a bit more.
    I know this was mentioned to you before as something for you to work on, but do I think you need to work on the clarity of your writing. I’ve read through and commented on every piece you’ve written so far this year, and I’ve found grammatical confusion and other GUMPs errors to be common throughout your writing. But I know this is just because you have so much that you’re trying to say, and you’re trying to say it all at once. Also, these issues are relatively minor, yet since they are consistent issues, I would really take the time to work on this. Going through your pieces with the fine-toothed comb of editing will definitely help make it more engaging.
    Your writing is just lovely, Kelley. Like I said, I’ve been following your pieces all year and you never fail to impress! I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!


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