the wellness academy: i’m still me
earlier this spring, i had the honour of visiting (for a day) a local wellness academy. 2 months after this initial experience, i started my 2-month internship and boy, has it taught me a lot.
just to recap, their programs are all fairly arts-based, taking on an artistic rather than a medicinal approach, and their “clients” who mostly suffer from dementia are called participants and friends. at the academy, everybody is equal. for my previous post, i went into a lot of detail as to what goes on in a typical day. i can’t really do that for 2-months’ worth of time spent (because it would take me forever, and you’d grow impatient probably) so, here’s just a little point + slight elaboration summary of the things i have learned and experienced.
music is truthfully powerful
i’m sure every avid music lover has that one song that just brightens their day, no matter what the situation. i most definitely do not lie when i say music has healing powers (to me, it’s the closest form of magic there is in our otherwise mundane world). one of the more severe dementia participants who was pretty much unresponsive most of the time would always react positively to music – the slight tapping of the foot, a smile on the face, and most heart-warming of all, humming along to a favourite song, refusing to leave. in the case of the other participants, i was surprised at how much of the lyrics they could remember (music as something to help improve as well as evoke memories? i think so!). honestly, music just worked its magic on these people like i’ve never seen before! it was also interesting to learn about the participants’ stories behind a favourite song, all while envying those who got to see a-list bands (like the beatles) perform live in their prime. i found myself having musical discussions with the participants – “who doesn’t love ABBA?” “who doesn’t love fleetwood mac?” “i love this song!” – which just all in all proves that music is the universal language everybody can understand and relate to. of course, with a little bit of music always came the dancing.
dance like there’s no tomorrow
boy, could these people dance! we had this thing called dance party fridays at the end of the day, and it was the best time of the week for everybody – even those in wheelchairs found ways to dance along, no exclusions. but then again, they would dance any time, any day, whether it’s friday or not because they loved it. this one gentleman would always come up to me with a bright smile on his face, asking me to dance with him. trust me when i say they’ve all got some snazzy moves – so good, you’d forget about their age for a bit. i swear in those moments, their minds were very much youthful. when they danced, it was as if they’ve got no worries whatsoever and were just living in the moment, the only thoughts being to have fun with each other. they may have been feeling down the entire day, but one dance (with some music, of course) was all it took to bring them back.
art as a means of self-expression
another point i want to touch on is visual art. though not as popular amongst the participants as musical or drama sessions, it does its wonders for some. this one woman loved drawing birds; another (with my help) discovered a new technique that was uniquely her own and would ask to paint every time she came; another man loved to draw people – faces with a little backstory twist, in particular. there was one particular gentleman that really captivated me, amongst others. while i was there, i read an article about how that gentleman had been in a depressed state prior to coming to the academy. art used to be his passion, until he discovered he had dementia and gave up on painting. coming to the academy, he slowly started to paint once again, and rediscovered that passion he had buried down in his heart, contributing to his mental state as well. everyone would agree with me when i say that his artwork is one-of-a-kind, painted in a style all his own – i could recognize his art anywhere.
what i really enjoyed about the participants’ art was asking them what it meant to them, what they saw in their paintings. their answers could lead to anything.
so i think i kind of strayed from my initial points of what to write but i think you get the idea of what it was like. now that i’m taking a developmental psychology course on adults and seniors, i find myself making connections, drawing back on experiences from my summer. there is so much stigma and stereotypes surrounding seniors, but my experience just broke all of them. i urge you not to be prejudiced towards seniors and give them a chance, as if they were a friend. they have lived longer than most of us, and have a lot of wisdom to share, giving unconditional validation and support. i could go on and on. i hope you remember this: patience is a virtue; art is healing; MUSIC is magic.
at the end of the day, the participants will still be able to say: “i’m still me.”
that’s all for now.
*note: pictures all taken by yours truly; artwork belongs to participants, staff, and volunteers at the wellness academy.