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Seniors channel their inner Van Gogh

An old Danish proverb states, “Age may wrinkle the face, but lack of enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”

A group of community seniors living at St. Joseph’s Villa can attest to that. Their creative appetites have experienced a rebirth of sorts thanks to Sudbury artist Monica Swan. She has been offering residents of St. Joseph’s Villa the opportunity to express themselves during her watercolour classes.

The average age of the participating residents is 91 years old, although one would never know it by looking at their work.

The therapeutic benefits, as well as the self-confidence this particular type of art therapy has brought to the lives of the participating residents, are remarkable and rewarding to all those involved.

Swan’s skill, patience, belief and passion for the program had residents, many who had never held a paint brush, turning out masterpiece after masterpiece.

“It’s been very exciting. It gives me hope for my future and encourages me,” says Swan.

“Their focus and concentration, their joy at the response of their families was an incredibly amazing experience. I am thrilled that their grandchildren can see that they (the grandparents) are still capable of surprising us.”

And surprise us they did. Swan, staff members, and family volunteers didn’t expect to see the quality of work that was produced during each lesson.

Louise Kirchhefer’s mother, Ann, is one of Swan’s star pupils. Kirchhefer volunteered to help during the classes, and was impressed by the aspiring artists.

“As the weeks passed, hidden talents began to emerge during these sessions. All were delighted with one another’s paintings. The discovery of their artistic talents gave the participating residents a sense of pride and accomplishment,” she says.

And in the words of her mother, Ann, the art “came right from my soul.”

Art as a form of therapy is not necessarily a new concept. However, in recent years long-term care facilities have turned to art therapy to allow residents an outlet to release their inner creativity.

These small group sessions also allow residents the opportunity to socialize, and to improve their communication skills, as well as develop a broader social network with those with common interests.

The recreation and leisure programming has progressed throughout the years resulting in resident-centred programs with a focus on abilities rather than disabilities. Residents are encouraged to challenge themselves in ways they may never have in the past and are happily surprised at their achievements.

Many residents now take on the roles of teacher and mentor, and share knowledge and expertise with neighbours, family and staff.

On a personal note, residents who I have had the pleasure to work with, have taught me how to plant, tend and harvest a garden, and to make preserves from that garden. They have taught me to knit. I have had dance lessons and a history lesson or two. All life lessons that no degree or diploma could replace…and all a result of resident-centred programming.

Angie Gilchrist is with the life enrichment department at St. Joseph’s Villa.

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