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Watercolor artwork made by seniors at United Hebrew assisted living home.

Former Artist Nurtures Creative Spirit at Willow Gardens Memory Care

Adele Levy Gore selected pink, red, yellow and green as the color palette for her latest painting, a bold work in acrylic evoking energy and movement. A lifelong artist who’s sold occasional pieces to buyers in and around New York City, Gore completed her most recent work as a resident at Willow Gardens Memory Care, where she moved a year ago after her onset of early dementia. She has painted or engaged in artistic activities nearly every day since.

When Gore paints, she connects to memories and expresses herself nonverbally, according to Kayeon Kim, Willow Gardens’ certified art therapist who works closely with Adele every day.

Says Kim: “People with dementia experience a loss of language, and with it, a means of communication. But creative activities engage a different part of the brain than we use for language. So painting is a way to share thoughts and feelings. For Adele — a former working artist who studied fine arts — painting also helps her connect to her previous life and keep her passions alive.”

When Gore moved into Willow Gardens, Kim interviewed her and her family members to learn about her interests, skills, and hobbies. After discovering that art was Gore’s great love, the staff at Willow Gardens provided canvases, brushes, and paints, as well as pencils for sketching, another medium she enjoys. Most days, she is engaged in painting or sketching, gardening or listening to music — creative pursuits that scientists say can ease the agitation and aggressive behaviors associated with dementia.

Kim says she sees first-hand how art therapy provides huge benefits to Gore and other residents at Willow Gardens.

“It’s an effective, nonpharmaceutical approach to treating dementia symptoms. Losing the ability to communicate can be overwhelming for people with dementia. Art provides a different way to express emotion  — everything from fear and confusion to happiness and a sense of accomplishment.”

“I know she’s happy”

The support Gore receives to pursue her artistic passions is critical to her well-being, says her brother, Morris Levy. “I know she is doing well at Willow Gardens because she is painting. Her whole life, she painted when she was happy.”

As a child, Gore spread out her canvases to paint in the basement of her family’s home in Great Neck, Long Island. She went on to study painting at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, studying there for three years. Later, she painted and sketched from her Upper West Side apartment, where she lived with her husband.

“She was the most talented person in our family,” says Levy. “She had a beautiful voice, she could draw, she painted beautifully. We always thought it was therapeutic for her. When she was feeling good about herself, feeling loved and happy, she painted. That’s how I know that she’s feeling fantastic now. They take such good care of her here and it shows.”

That his sister would do well at Willow Gardens was apparent from the very beginning, says Levy. “They did their homework. They were in touch with our doctors and helped obtain and provide all the information we needed for an easy transition.”

Levy credits the entire staff at Willow Gardens with providing the loving and supportive care his sister needs to thrive and continue to enjoy life. “Everyone — from the staff at the front desk, to [director of memory care] Sallie Carlin and Kay and the other therapists and nurses — they are all so patient and kind. They see to her every comfort and support her in every way they can.”

Carlin submitted Gore’s latest painting to the Foundation for Quality Care’s “Art from the Heart” program, which spotlights resident artwork from assisted living communities nationwide. Her painting earned a certificate of honorable mention.

“With Covid, I haven’t been able to visit her indoors, and I miss that,” says Levy. “But we have had many window visits, where I can see her through the glass and talk to her. Seeing that she is still doing what she loves and being recognized for her skill makes me so happy.”