Using music and art to support those with memory loss

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Art and music are integrated into the group regularly. —Courtesy Memory Support Group

Have you stood in the middle of a room and wondered what you were looking for? Have you ever forgotten your best friend’s name, or perhaps memories you’ve always held dear? Well, Nancy Langman and Victoria Haeselbarth have held a memory support group for the past six or so years, and a new round of weekly meetings are free to the community starting Dec. 5 at the Pebble building at Featherstone. You have a choice of 9:30 to 11 am or 11 am to 12:30 pm. “The earlier group is comprised mostly of men and the latter of women, but it is each person’s choice which one they would prefer to attend,” Haeselbarth said.

Langman answered my questions in order to give readers a sense of what they can expect should you choose to drop in:

What can someone who comes expect?

One goal of our memory support groups is to offer a safe haven for people with memory challenges. Stigma is a huge issue, and our group allows people to talk about their issues in a supportive environment. A second goal is to provide information and strategies to assist with memory challenges. We do this through educational handouts on topics such as nutrition, stress reduction, exercise, sleep health, and many more. A third important goal is socialization. Many people with memory challenges become isolated in our community. Of note, caregivers can bring their loved one to our group and know they will be safe and engaged while they are with us. We integrate music and art several times per month in our program. In addition, the two leaders are knowledgeable about resources for families struggling with memory challenges.

Art is a therapeutic intervention. It can reduce anxiety and depression. As people lose the ability to communicate clearly in an oral way, art provides an alternate means of self-expression that can provide satisfaction and empowerment. It can improve life quality and outcomes.

How do use the arts in the group?

We alternate art and music, but always have art supplies available for those who choose to do some art while we are doing trivia or sharing stories about our lives and challenges. We informally display our art work in Featherstone’s Pebble building. We also enter artwork into relevant shows offered at Featherstone.

How did you devise this approach to memory support? What gave you the idea? How did it evolve?

The first memory support group occurred at MVCS while I was the director of the Island Counseling Center. At that time, I was completing my doctorate in public health leadership at University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Nursing, with a concentration on Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The research showed that caregivers lacked adequate knowledge and support. A 12-week structured caregiver group led to a request from those who attended to provide a support group for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. We founded the original memory support group with a small local grant. It was established to run for 12 weeks. At the end of the group, those who attended said, “You’re not going to abandon us, are you?” and so the group was established as ongoing support. In the summer of 2014, the group moved to Featherstone, where we had the opportunity to add art and music to our program.

What might someone get out of attending?

Far and away the most important feature of this group is socialization and acceptance. The literature strongly supports the value of staying socially engaged as we age as one of the ways to avoid or delay significant memory challenges. Other important issues of maintaining brain health include healthy eating, exercise, and taking good care of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease that are known to be risk factors for dementia.

Can people come to any and/or all session, or do they have to attend the series?

We welcome all to our group. In the summer, many summer visitors and seasonal residents attend our groups. People do not need to register. They are welcome to bring a friend or caregiver if they choose. Importantly, we rarely miss a week. A bad snow storm, Christmas on a Wednesday, or a building challenge such as no heat have resulted in no more than four or five canceled groups in all the years we have being doing this. Victoria and I always say that it is “the best time of our week.”

Langman ended by saying, “One last point, we always welcome visitors so stop on any Wednesday. No advance notice needed.”

For more information, contact Nancy Langman at 508-498-1948 or Victoria Haeselbarth at 508-627-4368. Visit firststopmv.org.