Joy, happiness and tranquility: These are words used by the students in Nicola Demonte’s art classes to describe their experience creating art. These seem to be universal responses to making art, including for these students, who are adults living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
For adults with memory loss and other disabilities, art provides a connection to others. Demonte and another art teacher, Krissy Catt, are bringing that valuable experience to those living in the lake area. Demonte also teaches caregivers—family members and professionals—how to use art in positive ways. Although the teachers’ backgrounds differ, both experience firsthand the impact art has on their students.
With an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s degree in both clinical psychology and history of architecture and fine arts, Demonte expanded his experience with adults living with Alzheimer’s to include a teaching opportunity. He now teaches a drawing, painting and sculpture class at Lake Minnetonka Shores as well as an art history class at Summerwood of Chanhassen. He also recently developed a class for caregivers at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts.
“I love connecting with people from various backgrounds, meeting people and teaching ideas,” he says. “It is inevitable in any class that I am learning something new.”
Demonte says art for adults living with Alzheimer’s and dementia provides endless benefits. Making art improves memory, encourages self-expression, reconnects students with loved ones and enhances motor and dexterity skills. As a teacher, he draws on his background in art history to incorporate various art movements into his lessons. Demonte also encourages his students to critique their artwork and utilizes technology as a teaching tool.
Teaching to adults with dementia poses challenges, including losing class members to age—the hardest part for Demonte.
“These are very powerful and emotional experiences for me. I have to keep it in perspective, and appreciate the time I have with these beautiful human beings who are mothers and fathers, grandparents and siblings,” he says.
Catt has an undergraduate degree in fine arts from the University of Minnesota and an interest in teaching, so leading art classes was appealing to her. She also had experience teaching classes to adults living with a wide range of disabilities, including Alzheimer’s, she says.
Several years ago, Catt approached the Minnetonka Center for the Arts and proposed a similar weekly class. They offered her an outreach teaching position, which she gladly accepted.
Catt currently teaches a sculpture class for seniors every Wednesday afternoon at Summerwood of Chanhassen. Her class consists of a core group of six senior women and a few drop-in participants. This group of seven has formed strong friendships in the past year. Although Catt’s students do not have Alzheimer’s, most have physical disabilities, such as arthritis or impairments from stroke, as well as memory loss.
Catt says the classes benefit her students during class and beyond. “It’s something that they look forward to every week; it builds community outside of that two- to three-hour window,” she says.
Catt’s favorite moments stem from her students’ excitement and joy. The physical benefits are remarkable as well. She says that molding clay can, for example, help students’ hand, which ailments may have affected.
Like Demonte, Catt enjoys her classes and making an impact in the day-to-day lives of the older artists.
“I love spending time with my students and working with them,” she says. “They are always amazed at what they can do.”