The following story about Carleton alum Kirsten Camartin, written by Kristy Strauss, appears in the April, 2013 edition of Carleton Now.
Alum creates art project to help people with dementia
Kirsten Camartin has always wanted to help empower others – especially those who were most vulnerable.
She decided to pursue this passion and complete a master’s degree in social work at Carleton. Now, she is helping dementia patients communicate through art therapy.
“You can’t possibly predict what someone with dementia is capable of doing,” says Camartin, who is currently an art therapy student in Owen Sound, Ont.
Camartin recently led a display at the community’s local gallery that showed art work and stories created by those with dementia.
The display was part of an overall project she worked on called Fostering personhood through creative expression.
Camartin worked with dementia patients who created stories based on several images, and who also painted on a canvas to go along with it. Personal and professional caregivers also contributed images to go with the story, as a way of connecting both groups.
“I wanted to connect groups of people who have dementia, and who do not,” Camartin says. “It was about building connections and relationships.”
The participants were not artists, but creating art allowed dementia patients to express themselves. The project also allowed dementia patients to use the part of their brain that has stayed intact – which is the artistic part.
“While other parts of the brain are changing, the artistic part stays intact,” she says, adding that the project allowed dementia patients to feel comfortable in their communication to others.
“If you’re a person with dementia, you question yourself and what you’re saying. But when you’re asked where you want the story to go, it takes the pressure off.”
She was surprised by the public interest she received in the art display, and says those who attended found it to be uplifting and inspirational.
She hopes the art display helps start a dialogue about dementia, and the capabilities of the patients.
“There are long-held assumptions about who and what persons with dementia are,” Camartin says. “But when you see the art pieces, you see identity markers. There are parts of the personality that are clearly there, and it shows that growth and learning can occur.”
She says she has greatly valued her education at Carleton, and the social work program emphasized how to help the most vulnerable groups – by allowing them to help themselves first.
Camartin particularly remembers one professor, Sarah Todd, who taught her that people empower themselves – and, that message has stuck with her throughout her career.
She brought that message of empowerment to her most recent art therapy project, she says, and will continue to keep it in mind.
“It’s about self-expression, and creating pieces of art that reflect our thoughts and feelings,” Camartin says. “When words, feelings and language are difficult, art can become a valuable method of communication.”
While she says it’s important for dementia patients to empower themselves, the project also created an awareness of what they can contribute.
“Creating art reinforces the idea of personhood,” she says. “That’s the whole idea of the project.”
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