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University of Michigan Ann Arbor professor fights stigma of memory loss with expressive course

U-M Stamps students work with community members experiencing memory loss

Associate professor Anne Mondro's Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts course cuts down stigmas against those experiencing memory loss. Photo | Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

ANN ARBOR, MichUniversity of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design associate professor Anne Mondro has fought against the stigmas surrounding memory loss and those living with dementia for more than 15 years.

Mondro, who has worked with the University of Michigan Geriatric Center & Institute of Gerontology Silver Club for many years, created a course in 2014 to share tips and training with students. Called Memory, Aging & Expressive Arts, Mondro invites the students who sign up for her class to work with Washtenaw County community members living with memory loss. Together, students and their community partners work on creating a developing a concept over the course of the term which is demonstrated or exhibited towards the end of the course.

Currently, there are between an estimated 190,000 and 240,000 people living with Alzheimer’s in Michigan, according to the Alzheimer’s Association and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. As the number of those living with dementia is anticipated to rise in the future, Mondro’s training and courses teach students how to work and build relationships with those needing care and attention.

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During Mondro’s course, students and program participants from local care and health programs learn expressive arts and expressive practices in demonstrations lead by professionals and experts. These expressive arts include storytelling, music, artmaking and movement-based forms of expression. Mondro’s Stamps students then work with their community partners to conceptualize and develop an expressive concept that matches and supports the needs of the community participant.

A student in Mondo's course works with her community partner. Photo | Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

“When I started out working with this community, the best advice I was given was this. When you meet one person with memory loss, you’ve met one person,” Mondro said. “You have to get to know the individual and meet them wherever they’re at.”

Through working with their community program partners, not only do students learn about their partners but also how to communicate effectively with them and help them to practice creative ways so as to achieve their expressive needs.

According to Mondro, who is also an artist, when community members affected by memory loss socialize, create meaningful connections and participate in art-making and expression, they experience more joyful and genuine relationships.

Read: Alzheimer's Association 2019 report projects dramatic increase in those with memory concerns

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