Art helping the heart and mind

Art is giving a new lease of life to residents of a Brisbane aged care community who live with dementia.

Seniors at Carinity Clifford House are reaping the therapeutic benefits of painting classes run by art student and volunteer chaplain, Jen Mundt. Jen has witnessed a noted positive change in the demeanour of residents who have been participating in the weekly art sessions.

“I’ve seen a gradual progression in everyone being at ease with each other and laughing. Attendees say they look forward to coming,” Jen said.

“The residents who attend enjoy creating with the colours, no matter what level of artistic ability they have. The families of the participants have given great feedback about the art lessons, especially how much their loved one is enjoying them.

“My hope is to align the therapeutic benefits of art to meet the spiritual standards for the aged – meaning, purpose and connection. By being creative, connecting with like-minded others and having something they can achieve, it gives our residents real purpose.”

“By being creative, connecting with like-minded others and having something they can achieve, it gives our residents real purpose.” – Jen Mundt

Art class participants have been painting everything from flowers and fruit, to bugs and birds, while calming music plays in the background.

“Once we’ve decided together what the next item to paint will be, they often ask if I can draw a rough outline for them to follow. I’m finding that brighter colours are favourites for the ladies living with dementia,” Jen said.

“I allow whatever time is needed for each person to assess the colours and choose what they will paint next. At times, I remind a person of the parts of an item to help with what to do next, such as asking them, ‘What colour are you painting the flower-pot base?’

“Each resident has their own ability but all that attend regularly are progressing. For example, one lady just could not keep the colours for her flowers within the petals. A few weeks on this was easier for her.”

Some of the painters attended art classes or taught art in their earlier years and have relished putting a paintbrush to canvas once again.

“One lady was quite an artist before moving into Clifford House and her drawings are a standout. She’s drawn a beautiful garden with colourful flowers and is now on to drawing two owls,” Jen said.

Carinity Clifford House Residential Manager, Arati Shresta, notes the art sessions have had positive effects on residents’ mental and physical wellbeing.

“Studies have shown that enjoying and creating art is therapeutic for people, including older people who are living with dementia. We are so grateful that Jen volunteered to run an activity that is helping to improve the quality of life for our residents,” Arati said.

“Encouraging our residents to express themselves creatively helps them to relax while affirming their dignity, increasing self-esteem and nourishing their souls.”

Jen said the most enjoyable aspects of hosting her art classes are “seeing people living happy lives, laughing and joking” and the “unexpected” joys that sometimes arise. “For example, one day one of the ladies started singing It Is Well with My Soul in her native Papua New Guinea tongue to the background music I was playing. It was so, so beautiful.”