My monthly ElderSparks session with a group of Alzheimer’s patients was scheduled for the Saturday before Halloween. In the holiday spirit, I wanted to do something with masks, but this time, I tried a slightly different approach. Instead of making the mask from scratch as an integrated whole, I thought it might be fun to draw mouths, noses, and pairs of eyes independently of each other, and only later, assemble faces using the disparate pieces. Call it comic Cubism. If we could also learn how to communicate emotions by changing the shape or contours of the eyes or mouth, so much the better.

What I didn’t count on was everyone’s inability to draw only eyes or only a mouth: a full face had to accompany the specific organ. The rogue’s gallery that resulted was hysterical to look at, and opened up two areas for major discussion: some good-natured art criticism — e.g, “This face is missing a forehead,” or “This head has no chin.” —  and psychoanalytic conjecture — “He looks very worried,” or “To me, she has that crazy look in her eyes.”

The faces turned out to be so full of personality they just begged to be in a short story or play. So one by one, we gave each a line of dialog to go with his or her expression and the words that came before. When the script was complete, Cynthia, one of the aides, acted it out to everyone’s delight.

    ****(Click on image to enlarge.)


 I didn’t mean to do it.

Oh yes you did!

I saw you

At the ballerina show.

And I took your mug shot.

You two-faced — 

No, I’m innocent.

He did it.

I’m confused.

Someone’s in trouble.

So who could it be?

The girl with the long hair. Book her!

I’m a cop and you’re busted.


Cynthia, her colleague Yvonne, and Sally (the assistant program coordinator), deserve a hearty shout-out for contributing so much to the group effort. When staff members fully immerse themselves in a recreational program as they did, it often reaches a higher level — residents receive more hands-on help, and a shared activity deepens bonds that are already close. Professional distinctions fall away and all that remains is one big happy family, rejoicing in its togetherness.