Joanna Sandhorst (left)

Joanna Sandhorst (left)

Bringing creativity and aging together

The Society for the Arts in Dementia Care hosts seventh annual conference, bringing speakers from around the world

Dr. Dalia Gottlieb-Tanaka knows how important creative expression programs are for older adults living with dementia.

As the chairman of the Society for the Arts in Dementia Care, Gottlieb-Tanaka has been running a number of programs for older adults in Vernon for the past few years and is looking forward to sharing and learning more at the seventh annual Creative Expression, Communication and Dementia (CECD) International Conference this fall.

With the theme, “Creativity and Aging,” the conference takes place Sept. 8 to 10 in Vernon. The conference’s main purpose is to serve as a distribution platform for up-to-date knowledge exchange on creative expression programs that have been proven to work with older adults, especially those living with dementia.

“The conference also provides hands-on demonstrations and workshops where practitioners, health care professionals, family members, students and anyone interested in improving self-care and care of others go away with helpful ideas,” said Gottlieb-Tanaka. “They all will have an opportunity to meet and make new connections. As with past conferences, the conference will also foster academic collaboration in research.”

Sponsored by the Alzheimer Society of Canada, the conference will include presenters known for their work in the field of healthy aging and dementia care as they engage others in the arts.

The opportunity for Vernon to host the conference started when the city became the address for the Society for the Arts in Dementia Care after Gottlieb-Tanaka moved here.

“In these days of technological communications, the physical location of an operation like our society is less of an obstacle,” she said. “After developing connections in town and enjoying what the Okanagan Valley offers, we decided to have this year’s conference in Vernon.

“It is a small conference due to its unique and specific field of knowledge. However, it is known for its quality since its first conference in 2005.”

In addition to Gottlieb-Tanaka, conference speakers include: Gary Glazner executive director of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, New York; Anne Brisson, artist with Parlamaine studio, Montreal; Jim Arnold, owner of Folklore Music and Arts in Missisauga, Ont.; Julie Gross McAdam, founder and director of MAC.ART Program in Melbourne, Australia; Mary Jane Knecht, manager of Creative Aging Programs at the Frye Art Museum in Washington; Leeanne Stringer, owner/art educator of Ware on Earth Studio in Calgary; Terrie Babiuk, caregiver and member of At This Age group in Vernon; Alison Miller, caregiver and member of At This Age; and Joni Vajda, outreach coordinator, District of West Vancouver.

As well, members of At This Age will present a play, My Mother’s Story, during the conference, with the material based on the group’s writings. Vernon’s own Melina Moore has volunteered to direct the play, which will include songs from around the world.

Gottlieb-Tanaka said there is a now a better understanding of older adults and their needs.

“We have plans for age-friendly communities that recognize that by providing opportunities for social interactions and stimulating all our senses through creative expression activities, we reduce stress, anxiety and depression and contribute to a better and healthier lifestyle. Science has also proved that by being and staying involved we postpone the development of dementia and that staying engaged socially through the arts is crucial for people living with dementia.”

She said it wasn’t that long ago when  people living with dementia were considered mentally ill and were strapped to their chairs or beds.

“They are still confined to their care facilities, however there are newer thoughts about adjusting their physical environments to give the feel of an environment without boundaries, such as villages designed specifically for people living with dementia.

“Yes, it is getting better for people living with dementia, but there is still lots to do in improving their quality of life.”

Gottlieb-Tanaka said the care of people living with dementia varies greatly, from care facilities where only basic needs are met, to wonderful examples where both physical, mental and spiritual needs are met and beyond.

Unfortunately, she said, creative expression programs are often cut back and trained staff laid off because of a lack of funding.

“We see improved understanding in the society at large where older people and people living with dementia get treated better, but it is not enough,” she said. “Even some granting agencies fail to recognize the importance of supporting the arts in dementia care and in the older population. However, our society enjoys the full support of the Alzheimer Society of Canada and thanks to them we are able to implement our mandate that supports new knowledge dissemination and education open to all.”

Gottlieb-Tanaka said there are a number of places around the world doing groundbreaking work with older adults and those living with dementia, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the day care centre at Ichilov Hospital in Israel and the Spark of Life in Australia. And here in Vernon, her program is now in its third year at the Schubert Centre.

“I love working with older adults and now that I have reached this age myself, I enjoy doing what my clients do. I love seeing how seniors who did not have many opportunities to be exposed to artistic activities, strive and enjoy their new connections. I love the friendships that develop and the excitement such a program generates. Although I help facilitate the At This Age group, they are self-led and really amazing.”

And while Gottlieb-Tanaka is often away for weeks at a time, presenting and teaching around the world, the group continues to meet and develop. About 80 people have participated in the program, with a core group of about seven to 10 people.

“I am happy to provide this service which I do as a volunteer at the Schubert Centre but in return I ask for the group’s permission to publish our activities in the media, such as our Facebook page,, which serves as a reliable source of information.”

The conference is now open for abstract (short description) submissions of art programs in care facilities, at home or in day programs. Go to for more details. Click on events and Call for Papers/Abstracts and follow the instructions. Deadline for submissions is June 30.

“Our society was the first in the world to run conferences and workshops on creative expression programs for people living with dementia and one of the first organizations to recognize the importance of staying engaged in the arts as we get older.

“So, come join our conference and enjoy what it has to offer. Vernon may be a small town but its citizens’ health is shared all over the world.”

Gottlieb-Tanaka is hoping local businesses will be willing to provide sponsorship for some of the activities during the conference, whether it’s contributing towards refreshments or sponsoring one of the speakers. If you can help, or for more information, please email or call 250-503-0117 and leave a message.