While more than eight decades and the effects of Alzheimer’s disease separated them, Della Donna-Matthews and 7-year-old Aniyah Arenivaz shared one powerful bond: a love of art.
“Miss Della,” as she was affectionately known, led a colorful life. Born in Texas in 1925, she was a real-life version of Rosie the Riveter, working in a factory during World War II. She later was certified as a nurse. At age 50, she earned a bachelor’s degree in education that led to a new career as an elementary school teacher. For the past year, Miss Della lived in assisted living as her Alzheimer’s diagnosis progressed. She passed from the disease on April 29 at age 91.
It was Miss Della’s love of art that led her to cross paths earlier this year with Aniyah, who joined her grandmother, Juanita Davis, for a visit to the assisted living facility where Miss Della participated in the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado Memories in the Making art program.
Miss Della’s daughter, Linda Donna, happened to tell Juanita Davis that a piece of Miss Della’s artwork had been selected for the 2017 Alzheimer’s Association Memories in the Making Art Auction. That inspired Juanita Davis to make the introduction.
“My granddaughter loves to draw,” said Davis. “We brought them together to see each other’s art and see if they could help one another. They sat together on Sundays to draw. Miss Della gave her pointers as Aniyah colored.”
The teacher in Miss Della came alive in those sessions. She would ask Aniyah, a second-grader at Arrowhead Elementary School in Aurora, why she chose a particular subject or why she selected a specific color; encouraging her young pupil to think about and express her decisions.
“It was good for Aniyah,” said Davis. “It helped her with her writing along with her drawing. I believe those art sessions gave something to both of them.”
Alzheimer’s Association Engagement
The Memories in the Making program, which is offered through nearly 100 assisted living facilities in Colorado by the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado, helps people with dementia who have lost the ability to use words to express their thoughts and emotions and share memories through painting and watercolors.
Some of the artwork created in the Memories in the Making sessions is chosen for the Alzheimer’s Association’s annual art auction, where it is paired with artworks donated by professional artists. Proceeds from the auction help fund educational programs and support services that the Association provides at no charge to persons with Alzheimer’s and their families.
“Through this art experience, people with Alzheimer’s are often able to access familiar parts of themselves and paint a picture that reconnects them with a past memory,” said Lisa Steffen, Memories in the Making program coordinator. “These documented memories become powerful tools that reassure family and caregivers that the essence of the individual is still there. For example, one artist loves to paint airplanes that spark stories of his U.S. Air Force service in World War II, while another painted a pattern that reminded her of how her grandmother taught her to quilt – using small scraps to create something beautiful.”
“I needed to have the help of the Alzheimer’s Association to help me through these trying times,” said Linda Donna, reflecting on her mother’s dementia diagnosis. “The Memories in the Making program caused her to create more and brought back her love of drawing. And teaching Aniyah brought back her treasured memories of being a school teacher. The one-on-one contact made her feel special.”
The Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado’s Memories in the Making art auction will be held Saturday, June 10, at the Pat Bowlen Field House – UCHealth Training Center at Dove Valley in Centennial. Click here for more information.