Crafts in Ellenberger: Residents with dementia take pride in their creations

Taqiyya Muhammad with resident

Taqiyya Muhammad, artist and instructor, guiding another creative experience.

“Alright, Miss Betty,” says instructor Taqiyya Muhammad. “I think I need your help again.”

Miss Betty has mastered her job by now. She slides a glue stick down a strip of orange construction paper, concentrating on getting it just so. Taqiyya takes the glued end and adheres it to the inside of a roll of brown construction paper, and together, teacher and Homeland resident make a pumpkin.

This is the crafts class in Ellenberger Unit, which provides care for those with advancing memory impairment and is part of Homeland Center’s continuum of care. That also includes Personal CareSkilled CareRehabilitation Services and Homeland at Home services of Hospice, HomeCare and HomeHealth. Ellenberger activities are tailored to the varying needs of the 24 residents, encouraging interaction, expression, and skill-building.

It’s all in a safe, supportive setting designed to promote continued independence and personalized care. The focal point is Ellenberger’s solarium designed specifically for the tactile and sensory needs of dementia patients. Residents feel the sun through the glass walls and listen to the gentle stream of the water feature, all amid tranquil greenery specifically chosen to be safe and non-poisonous in case of accidental ingestion.

In Ellenberger’s cheery dining room, Taqiyya Muhammad teaches two weekly classes, one in crafts and the other in painting. She enjoys teaching the residents, who are “youthful despite their years on earth. They’re witty.”

Through art, “they learn to complete a work and follow through,” says Taqiyya. “They work with their hands, which helps promote mobility. And they just have fun.”

Art therapy offers a range of benefits for people with dementia, studies show. It engages the brain, triggers memories, encourages social interaction, and enhances communications.

Taqiyya typically plumbs Pinterest for ideas, seeking projects that can be completed in an hour while offering stimulation and a sense of accomplishment. In painting class, residents might paint a flower or a flamingo, with help from Taqiyya, and then find it on the Ellenberger dining room’s art wall.

“I did that!” they’ll say. Ellenberger Activity Coordinator Aleisha Connors created the colorful gallery.

“Arts and crafts are wonderful,” Aleisha says. “I love how the residents are engaged. It’s a sensory activity for them.”

All the benefits of art therapy were on display in a recent afternoon crafts class. Taqiyya pulled orange, brown, and green construction paper from her supplies, preparing to direct residents in making pumpkins. First, they rolled squares of the brown paper into a base.

“Like a toilet paper roll,” says a resident named Bob.

“Like a toilet paper roll,” agrees Taqiyya.

Then the residents got to glue strips of the orange paper in half-circles, making their pumpkins come to life. While most did as instructed, gluing the strips first, Bob glued the inside of the tube in one fell swoop.

“Oh, Mr. Bob, that’s a good idea,” Taqiyya told him. “I like that system you have going on over there.” His years of working as an electrician were evident, as he methodically glued strip after strip to the tube, making the fullest pumpkin in the patch.

When a resident began singing the Guys and Dolls tune “A Bushel and a Peck,” the other residents joined in. They smiled as their pumpkins took shape. Aleisha asked a resident named Barb, “If we’re making a pumpkin, what season are we going to be in?”

“Fall,” Barb said. Barb was thoroughly enjoying the activity. She compared her pumpkin to Aleisha’s, which was having trouble staying upright.

“My pumpkin stands all by itself,” Barb said.

Taqiyya offers a different craft every week. Residents have painted rocks and played a bumblebees-vs.-ladybugs version of tic-tac-toe. They have created flowers from plastic bottles, and “painted” stained glass with markers on foil. They put their handprints in plaster molds. They once made cubes from sticky notes as holders for battery-operated candles they could put on their dressers.

“I try to liven it up a bit,” Taqiyya says. “Sometimes, we get sophisticated. Around Christmastime, we painted on coffee mugs and stuffed them with treats they’re allowed to have.”

When residents are new to Ellenberger, Taqiyya tries to encourage them to attend.

As the hour ended, each pumpkin got its final touch – a green stem. Barb looked at her creation with pride.

“Look how perfect it is,” she said.