Therapy uses art, music and movement to stimulate memories LISA MACKINDER
As the resident of a long-term care facility looks through a notebook of paintings, a scene of a white fence with red geraniums catches her eye. This is the picture she will paint today. Her therapist, Patricia Hinckley, puts shades of blue and purple acrylic paint onto a canvas to produce the background. Hinckley then asks the woman to move her paintbrush from left to right, and the colors merge as the woman slowly drags the brush across the canvas. Vertical brush strokes with white paint create the fence. Light dabs of a sponge sprout the red geraniums and emerald green leaves. This is not a typical art lesson. The elderly woman suffers from memory loss, and this session aims to help rekindle her memories. For 30 minutes, Hinckley leads her client in MnemeTherapy (the first part pronounced “Nemma”), which assists people with cognitive impairments resulting from such conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, stroke and autism spectrum disorder. Named for the Greek muse of memory, MnemeTherapy utilizes singing, movement, “directed painting,” storytelling and praise to stimulate the brain 30 | ENCORE APRIL 2015
Mneme therapist Patricia Hinckley works with client Sharon Shindledecker at Fountain View in Portage.
and encourage neuroplasticity, the nervous system’s capacity for developing new neuronal connections. “I give them a good day,” Hinckley says of her clients. “In that half hour we connect and I can see the person that they were.” With her painting complete, the client lights up with unmistakable joy. Just as important, though, each brushstroke and sponge dab has helped trigger the woman’s memories. A recollection of a barn. A remembrance of a fence with red geraniums planted near pink peonies that separated the woman’s yard from the neighbors’. “It’s like rebuilding a bridge,” Hinckley says. “After painting, the goal towards the end is to get them storytelling. We try and engage them in something that connects in their brain.” MnemeTherapy was created by Noell Hammer, founder of the Art Without Boundaries Association in Florida, which trains MnemeTherapists. Hinckley, who has a master’s degree in counseling