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Spiced Memory: Village of The Heights fights dementia with paint

Original article by Landan Kehlmann, The Leader.
Photo credit: The Leader.

With each passing year, the memories for some grow fainter and fainter; but one local care facility is taking every step to attempt slowing down the effect of dementia in their residents.

Last week, Village of the Heights senior living facility rolled out the inaugural test of Spice Painting, an activity aimed at delaying the effects of dementia in older patients via the combination of spices with water color paints to invoke possible long-lost memories

“This alone is beneficial because it utilizes their senses – their hand-eye coordination with the painting and spices in the paint brought back some memories. It works the mind and touches some of the senses,” Village of the Heights Memory Care Program Coordinator Christian Salazar said.

The study was originally conducted by Dr. Christine Tisone, professor of health education at Texas A&M as part of a student project. Oddly enough, one Village of the Heights’ resident’s granddaughter currently studies in College Station — a fortunate connection for all involved according to Executive Director Anthony Ormsbee.

“One of the focuses for our community this year is revitalizing our program calendar, and in memory care that’s essential,” he said. “We must keep those individuals with dementia constantly engaged to manage some of the behavior they might have. This is one of those great programs where they can utilize the senses, and it’s a great way to learn more about that individual that we might not have known.”

Shortly after coming across the study over the summer of 2016, Ormsbee delved deeper into specifics of the study and decided to pull the trigger, as research has shown there to be a strong association between the memory and smell — and jokingly said Village has no problem ‘stealing’ a good idea which has experienced substantiated success.

“It’s an evidence-based program, which carries a lot of weight to it, because you’re not just guessing. Sometimes we just throw things and kind of hope it sticks; this is something that has already been tried in some other communities,” he said. “There’s some research and evidence behind it that said it was a successful way to connect with residents, learn more about them and engage their senses. If someone else has been able to do it, we’re going to go ahead and run with it.”

Last Friday’s maiden voyage included one resident who was reminded of her rose garden at home prior to coming to Village of the Heights — a memory which sparked a 10-minute conversation among those present.

“I think most people probably have some sort of favorite sense that comes along with a great memory,” Ormsbee said. “They (the staff) were excited about it because it’s a great way to connect with the residents in a way that we hadn’t done before.”

Adding to enthusiasm and optimism for the program is that Ormsbee says Spice Painting fits the mold and model of the community, giving it a higher chance for success.

“We do have a lot of highly-functioning individuals; they do have dementia and they do need that environment, but for the most part they’re able to have those conversations and participate in those programs,” he said. “Something like this, which requires a little bit more of a high-functioning person to do, seemed like a great fit with our program — it’s not something every memory care community could do and have it be successful.”

To find more information about Village of the Heights or its new Spice Painting program, visit