Connecting with Seniors through Art in Half Moon Bay
by Jo-Anne Daniels
On a recent Thursday, the sun’s warmth glimmered through the windows and the faint sound of meditative and soothing music played as a group of seniors worked on their paintings. This happens every Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Coastside Adult Day Health Center. The senior clients — including Michiko Tse, Beverly Jenkins and Donna Swink — visit the Sunshine Room to learn how to paint. Their teacher, Leor Mugrabi, is a volunteer at the center. The seniors are joined by a parrot named Rocko, who loves to listen to the music. Mugrabi says, “Rocko plays the bell in his cage and loves to vocalize. He is smart and social.”
Mugrabi, who is also a landscape artist, began the first session by teaching the seniors how to mix paints — how to blend red and yellow to form orange, and how red and blue make purple. Mugrabi encourages the seniors to paint abstract art, because “abstract art allows them more freedom to express what is natural.” At that first session, Mugrabi also had the seniors begin by drawing lines on the watercolor paper, creating random shapes — and then coloring in those shapes. After that starting point, they took off on their own and enthusiastically began painting, developing their own styles.
Mugrabi displays the seniors’ art on the wall in the Sunshine Room and points out how each of the senior’s work is individual and personal. Tse says that her favorite color is blue and Swink says, “I like yellow a lot.” Swink says that the yellow and orange shapes painted on her canvas “represent the rocks along Highway 1.”
Sunshine Mugrabi is the social services director at the Coastside Adult Day Health Center and Leor Mugrabi’s wife — she’s the one who got him involved as a volunteer. She says,“One of the benefits of music and art is that it is an emotional stabilizer — the effects last for a few hours or longer.” She mentions a study from Dr. Oliver Sachs in which he found that the part of the brain associated with emotion is still active in Alzheimer’s patients. “Emotional memory lasts,” she says.
Art classes fit in well with the center’s other offerings. Some of those services include nursing and personal care, medication monitoring, various group activities, respite and support groups for families and caregivers. A hot, nutritious lunch is served every day.
The center also has a monthly program called the Alzheimer’s Café, for people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. It’s free, and open to the public — not just to center clients. The program is scheduled on the second to the last Wednesday every month, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. It provides an opportunity for families of loved ones with dementia to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and socialize in a safe and comfortable setting.
In addition to Leor Mugrabi, other volunteers also donate their time to assist the seniors. One volunteer plays the piano for them, and another one visits and discusses current events. One volunteer even teaches the seniors to play blackjack. Sunshine Mugrabi says that some of the clients were originally shy about coming to the center, but now “they run out to catch the bus to take them to the center.”
When the art classes end and the seniors file out of the Sunshine Room for lunch, Jenkins — who never said a word during the class — stretches out her hand to mine in an understated farewell.
The Half Moon Bay library will display the senior’s colorful and expressive art from Nov. 1-30, 2012. It will be an experience not to miss.
If you want to want to help the center and promote the senior art program, you can donate any of the following:
— Acrylic and tempera paint (nontoxic).
— Canvas paper or canvas boards.
— Acid-free mat boards, with at least one white side.
Cash donations are also appreciated.
For more information about Coastside Adult Day Health Center, call 650-726-5067 or visit the center’s website.