Toying with tapping memory

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A Pakenham aged care facility has opened an art therapy and activities space for residents as well as a special woodwork room for the increasing number of men living in aged care.

More than 12 months in the making, the facility has opened to all Millhaven Lodge residents, but with a focus on those in the special care ward.

Rotary Club of Pakenham’s Erica Peck was inspired by her newfound passion for aged care to use art as a means of tapping in to memories, particularly those of dementia patients.

Having worked as an art teacher for 40 years, Ms Peck discovered an opportunity to convert an old, abandoned kitchen at Millhaven, which had been used as a storage room, into an arts and crafts space.

The pantry has been transformed into an ‘Old Boys Toys’ workshop, with woodwork programs run by male volunteers primarily for male residents.

Previously, residents had used the dining hall for arts activities and were often disrupted which led to dementia patients finding it difficult to stay connected with the task.

Ms Peck said residents were already excited to use the new space.

“We’ve got to become creative with aged care. It’s about people continuing on with their lives, not end-of-life care. The thinking around aged care in Australia has to change,” she said.

“Art therapy is not about whether or not you’re an artist, it’s about tapping in to memories. When I ask someone to describe their painting, all the stories come out.

“One dementia patient was able to focus on a painting task for an hour and a half and usually he wouldn’t be able to focus on anything for more than a moment before his mind wanders elsewhere. Art works. And it’s worth investing in these kinds of programs.”

Ms Peck described how one woman had begun singing rhymes during the art sessions and that her son had no idea that she sang.

“It’s wonderful to see that art really can access memories in another way,” she said.

“Art improves dementia patients’ concentration and gives them another way to express themselves.

“One of our dementia patients used to be a prominent artist. She doesn’t have that ability any more but we’re gradually introducing her to the artwork she used to produce.”

Millhaven activities co-ordinator Tracey Van Roy said that in the last five years, numbers of male residents at Millhaven had grown from seven to about 30.

National figures show that men’s life expectancy is increasing and consequently more men now require aged care. About 30 per cent of men now live until above 80 years old compared to 12 per cent in 1950.

“We thought it was important to have an Old Boys Toys space especially for the men where male volunteers will work with small groups of residents to make woodwork toys for their grandchildren,” Ms Peck said.

The rooms will be used for a range of activities including mosaics, painting, papier mache, woodwork, and other arts and craft projects, as well as art therapy.

Ms Peck said she planned to expand the sessions to also include computer art in the future.

“Because why not learn a new skill at that age?” she said.

“There’s going to be something for everyone.

“So many community groups and businesses came together to make this happen, all through Rotary’s connections.”

The Rotary Club of Pakenham has a longstanding relationship with Millhaven and has collaborated on a number of projects since the facility opened in the early 1990s.

Millhaven plans to help each resident create a portfolio of skilled development, noting on the back of each artwork what inspired the piece – often memories – in the residents’ own words and something to live on forever for families.

Originally published at Pakenham Gazette.


About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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