2014 Archives

SMU's Meadows Museum forges Connections with dementia patients, caregivers


The following is from the Dec. 12, 2014, edition of The Dallas Morning News.

December 17, 2014


J Maisel sat on a bench among a gallery of Spanish art prints at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows Museum and stroked her diamond band.

It was a gift from her late husband, Larry Maisel, after nearly 20 years of marriage.

“There’s a story behind it,” she said, laughing as she retold a memory of their trip to Mexico and the margaritas that led to the jewelry purchase on their credit card. “But [Larry] never did seem sorry about it.”

Meadows Museum forges connections with dementia patients and caregivers
Meadows Museum Director of Education Carmen Smith (left) and Allison Davidson (right) explain the nuances of a painting as part of the Connections program at the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University.
(Photo by Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

It’s been nearly two years since her husband died. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about six years earlier. He was 59.

“I was horrified,” Maisel, 71, said. “I cried and cried.” 

They stopped building a lakeside house in New Braunfels and moved to a condo in downtown Dallas in August 2007. Maisel enrolled her husband in research studies and the couple attended Alzheimer’s support groups and seminars. 

They also made regular trips to the Meadows Museum for its Connections program. 

Established in 2011, the program serves people in early stages of dementia and their caregivers. It’s not just for people with Alzheimer’s. Some with traumatic brain injuries also have participated. 

The program includes various art disciplines such as literature, music, history, art-making and role play. During a recent Wednesday session, participants reenacted a traditional Spanish bullfight and shared family holiday rituals such as tamales on Christmas Eve and raw oysters on the half-shell after midnight Mass. Previous sessions have included flamenco dance lessons and weaving classes. 

Other organizations, such as the Dallas Museum of Art, also offer art therapy programs for people with dementia. But Carmen Smith, director of education at the Meadows Museum, said Connections’ structure and its number of docent volunteers differs from similar programs in the area. 

Smith said there’s usually one docent per dementia patient. The group also meets for three consecutive Wednesdays per session. . . 

The program launched a multi-phase plan by the museum to make its galleries and programs accessible to all people, including those with disabilities. 

“We started thinking about what the needs of our audiences were. It became very evident that we needed to find ways to address people with disabilities,” Smith said. “After we developed [Connections], we started using creative teaching techniques in the galleries. So our approach started to be more and more inclusive.” 

In late November, the university announced a student docent program through a partnership between the museum and the Delta Gamma Foundation of Dallas to assist visually impaired visitors. 

Smith said the museum is working to make all public programs inclusive by the end of 2015. This includes training docents so public tours are accessible and working to make lectures, symposiums, gallery talks and workshops available to those with and without disabilities.