This is Michigan

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Living in the moment: U-M art professor works to shatter the stigma that comes with memory loss

More than 240,000 people in Michigan live with dementia

Lack of understanding about this condition can often lead to loneliness and isolation

Through weekly visits and engaging activities, U-M Art & Design students

Are addressing these negative effects

One moment at a time

Alexa gordon
Student
Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design
University of Michigan

Alexa Gordon
We’ve been making an artist’s book, so to speak, and we’re kind of building all of these conversations into an artist’s book called coffee chats.

Jean Kelsey
Living with memory loss

Jean Kelsey
And the cover’s gonna have lots of—where we spilled our coffee—

Alexa Gordon
Yeah [laughing]

Jean Kelsey
—and back into there, and made—

Alexa Gordon
A pattern.

Jean Kelsey
—a pattern, thank you!

Alexa Gordon
Yeah, there you go!

Anne Mondro
Associate Professor
Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design
University of Michigan

Memory, aging and expressive arts is a course offered in the Stamps School of Art & Design that focuses on building students’ awareness and sensitivity towards people living with memory loss through shared art experiences.

Students learn about the scientific and social effects of dementia

Then design projects that will engage & lift the spirits of people living with memory loss

Jean Kelsey
I’ve really enjoyed it, being with a young person.

Alexa Gordon
We’ve come up with some more fun stories, but then we’ve also talked about just—different memories….

Anne Mondro
Our students travel to EHN senior solutions in Saline, Michigan, where students work with the memory support center.

More than 100 participants have formed special bonds during the course’s weekly visits

Ryan Olson
Adult Day Program Manager
Memory Support Center at Brecon Village

I talk to her every week and she talks about how great of a time that she’s had with her student, and it really brightens up her day. And that’s not something we hear that often from people with memory loss. So that this project really sticks with these participants; it’s really meaningful.

Cass Carpenter
Student
Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design
University of Michigan

I think that people who don’t understand memory loss don’t notice the power and the meaning in a beautiful moment, and getting to have joy and happiness whether or not you remember it.

The students are learning a lesson of a lifetime

Anne Mondro
We focus on being in the moment, and creating experiences that embrace being in the moment. So even if you have memory loss, it doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy that moment together.

Ryan Olson
I think that this could definitely be a model for other universities.

Jean Kelsey
So—I of course love her.

Alexa Gordon
Love you too, jean.

Jean Kelsey
Thank you…Awww….

Video Produced by Shannon Kohlitz, Michigan Media All photos by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography
By Sydney Hawkins

For more than 15 years, Anne Mondro, an associate professor at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design, has been creating and facilitating art programs for people living with dementia in Michigan.

Mondro and Stamps students

University of Michigan professor Anne Mondro, who facilitates arts programs for Michiganders living with memory loss, checks in with student volunteers

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan is currently home to 240,000 individuals with Alzheimer’s dementia—a term used to describe those in the dementia stage of the continuum. This number is expected to increase as the baby boom generation continues to age.

A crisis on a global scale, the disease also comes with a set of deep societal stigmatizations—myths that Mondro has been working to change in order to encourage quality of life, care and dignity for people living with memory loss.

The U-M students make weekly visits to Brecon Village

Stamps students arrive at Brecon Village in Saline, as part of the University of Michigan’s arts program for people living with dementia

After years of partnering with the U-M Geriatric Center & Institute of Gerontology Silver Club on various projects, in 2014 Mondro decided to share her training with students in the form of a course titled Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts. The class pairs Stamps students with local community members living with memory loss to work together to build a vision around a creative concept, execute that concept together and exhibit their work at the end of the term.

Her most recent class brought students to Brecon Village in Saline, Michigan, where EHM Senior Solutions partnered with her to offer a 10-week-long program on Fridays during the winter semester.

“This project really sticks with these participants, it’s really meaningful,” said Ryan Olson, adult day program manager at Brecon Village.

"We focus on being in the moment."

“We focus on being in the moment, and creating experiences that embrace being in the moment,” says the University of Michigan’s Anne Mondro of the Memory, Aging and Expressive Arts course

For the first half of the class, students and program participants were introduced to various forms of expressive art practices led by professionals in the field, including artmaking, storytelling, music and movement. The last half of the class prompted students to create and facilitate an idea for a project, based on the specific needs, abilities and interests of the participants that they were partnered with.

Cass Carpenter, a May 2019 Stamps graduate, had many conversations with her partner before settling on a final project.

U-M students assemble materials for art projects

Each participant is paired with a student from the University of Michigan’s Stamps School of Art & Design; the partners then work on an art project together

“She talked a lot about spring—apparently she was an avid gardener when she was younger, so I put together a project where we’re painting flowers and other spring scenes,” she said. “I’m really making sure that she gets to make all of the decisions and does a majority of the work, and I’m making sure that we’re set up to be able to be proud of our project and finish it on time.”

“I took this class, in part, to learn a little bit more about my grandfather, who is living with Alzheimer’s,” said Ansleigh Hamilton, a junior in the Stamps School, who worked on a music-based songwriting project with her partner. “What I learned is that the social aspect of the making is just as important as the act of making itself. Taking time with my partner to work toward a common goal inspires how I might approach a relationship with my grandfather in the future.”

“This project really sticks with these participants, it’s really meaningful.”

– Ryan Olson, adult day program manager at Brecon Village

An artist whose studio practice draws deep inspiration from relationships, interconnectedness, vulnerability and strengths between people, Mondro encourages Stamps students toward thoughtful, genuine relationships with their collaborators.

“When I started out working with this community, the best advice I was given was this: when you meet one person with memory loss, you’ve met one person,” Mondro said. “You have to get to know the individual and meet them wherever they’re at.”

"The social aspect of the making is just as important as the act of making itself."

“The social aspect of the making is just as important as the act of making itself,” says Ansleigh Hamilton, a junior in the University of Michigan’s Stamps School of Art & Design

Mondro asserts that it’s important for individuals with memory loss to participate in activities that help them sustain their citizenship in joyful, meaningful ways: gardening, going for a walk, listening to music, making art.

“We focus on creating experiences that embrace being in the moment,” Mondro said. “Just because someone has memory loss doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy life—that’s what really matters. That’s what we teach in this class.”

This Is Michigan

Anne Mondro

U-M Stamps School of Art & Design

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