Drawing on memories

Drawing on memories

For Joyce Brown and her husband George, it’s a chance to connect and enjoy time together. For a couple hours in a sun-filled room at St. Peter’s Hospital (SPH), they paint, talk and sip coffee. George is a patient in the Behavioural Health Program and takes part in Artful Moments, an interactive class offered in partnership with the Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH).

Each class begins with a discussion led by AGH staff members. Patients, supported by a family member or volunteer, look at prints and talk about them. Questions about the scenes they’re eyeing or the colours the artist has used prompt meaningful conversation.

“It gives them a way to converse. Sometimes the pictures spark memories about past experiences,” says Crissie Leng, a therapeutic recreationist at SPH. “They get quality one on one time with a volunteer or family member, and the discussion helps them think and focus.”

“He likes to look at the pictures,” says Joyce, noting that her husband studied art independently after retirement. “The stimulation is really nice.”

“It engages them for two full hours and helps them forget what they’re worried about.”

After the discussion, patients work in tandem with their partners to recreate a famous work of art. For patients in the Behavioural Health Program, this process is both recreation and therapy. Many of them experience responsive behaviours related to their dementia, for example shouting or repeating words and rhymes. The behaviours can arise out of anxiety or agitation and the opportunity to focus on an activity like painting helps them channel their energy into something positive.


“It decreases responsive behaviours,” Leng says. “It engages them for two full hours and helps them forget what they’re worried about.”

Lifting away that worry and creating space for creativity and connection is valuable for patients and families, as well as staff. It builds relationships and sparks laughter. The paintings produced during the sessions are imperfect, but the scenes they help to create are beautiful.

Artwork created by patients in Artful Moments is on display in the Alexander Pavillion.