Art and science combine for beautiful results in massage therapy outreach course

Exhibit by Alzheimer Calgary’s Club 36 and MRU students displayed on campus
A photo of room EC2120 which is on the second floor of the Roderick Mah Centre for Continuous Learning
EC2120 is on the second floor of the Roderick Mah Centre for Continuous Learning.

Creating visual art, music and written pieces can demonstrably improve emotional (and sometimes physical) wellbeing for people living with neurocognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; these activities allow people to express themselves and engage their minds.

Combining cognitive and physical wellness is at the heart of the partnership between Mount Royal’s Massage Therapy Diploma outreach programming and Alzheimer Calgary, which has culminated in a beautiful art installation now on display in the Student Practicum Clinic on the Mount Royal campus.

Outreach partnership helps foster important connections, skills for students and people living with dementia

Outreach courses are an essential part of the Massage Therapy Diploma program curriculum. These experiential learning opportunities help students develop the clinical, practical, professional and relationship skills to become well-rounded practitioners by practicing in different settings and with various patient groups.

Michelle Conger is the program’s outreach instructor. In partnership with Ali Cada, Director of Creative and Adult Day Programs for the Alzheimer Society of Calgary, Conger has brought practicum students together with members of Club 36, a day program for adults living with dementia.

“As the outreach instructor, it is very important to me to have our students work with a variety of special populations during their program,” Conger says. “Working with the Alzheimer Society, specifically Club 36, has brought our students together with members of the community that may not have the opportunity to have regular massage therapy. It gives our students real life experience working with a population of people that they may not otherwise. During their practicum at Club 36, the students bond with the members and gain a greater understanding of the struggles with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

The partnership began two years ago, with the students leading and participating exercise activities for Club 36. Cada, a proponent of creative activities for promoting brain health, suggested combining the massage therapy offerings with artistic activities. During these sessions, the participants and students pair up or form groups to work on art pieces, after which seated relaxation massages are offered to interested participants.

Art pieces co-created by Club 36 participants and massage therapy students displayed in EC2120.
Art pieces co-created by Club 36 participants and the massage therapy students displayed in EC2120.

“Collaboration between dementia patients and university students benefits both groups,” Cada says. “For dementia patients, it allows them to communicate their stories, express themselves creatively and connect with younger generations. For university students, it provides a greater understanding of the challenges faced by elderly residents and an opportunity to impact their lives positively.”

“I absolutely loved my time at Club 36 and would deem it one of my favourite opportunities that I got to take part in throughout the program,” says student Madelyn Judd. “I chose this particular outreach opportunity because I had always been curious about dementia and Alzheimer’s but I never knew that much about it. I thought this outreach would be an amazing asset in learning about the condition while being able to further my massage education. I believe everything about this outreach was very rewarding but if I had to pick one thing in particular, it would be the connections I was able to make with some of the members.”

Cada further explains that collaboration between dementia patients and students is a valuable way to promote empathy, understanding and connection between generations. It provides a meaningful way for elderly residents to share their stories and for students to positively impact their communities.

Student Ryley Schmaltz explains that, while the students learned about these conditions in their treatment classes, the experience of working with people who have dementia allowed them to put their learning into practice. “Getting this real-world experience with the members at Club 36 has taught me how to adapt my interactions with clients who have dementia. It was also interesting to see how it affects each member differently and what you can do to tailor each treatment,” he says. “I am grateful for the staff members at Club 36. We got to learn from them and witness some of their best practices.”

Collaboration shows value of creative endeavours

January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month in Canada. At the beginning of the month, art pieces co-created by Club 36 participants and the massage therapy students were hung in Mount Royal’s Student Practicum Clinic in EC2120 on the second floor of the Roderick Mah Centre for Continuous Learning (EC building). They will remain in the clinic for several months and new artwork will be added as the partnership continues. Everyone on campus is welcomed and encouraged to view the installation.

Art by Alzheimer Calgary’s Club 36 and MRU students on display in EC2120.
Art by Alzheimer Calgary’s Club 36 and MRU students on display in EC2120.

The collaboration was a powerful reminder that art can promote wellness and improve quality of life for those struggling with dementia. By working together, the massage therapy students and the Club 36 Adult Day Program created something beautiful and meaningful and found joy and purpose in the creative process.

“This collaboration was nothing short of transformative through the power of creativity to bring joy and purpose to those struggling with dementia,” says Cada.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate in this program, as I know it will help me be a better therapist throughout my practice,” says Judd. “This experience taught me more than I could have ever imagined about life in general but also about treating clients with dementia in the future and how to go about it as well as how to help people in my own life who may one day suffer from the disease.”

Mount Royal’s Massage Therapy Diploma program is accredited by the Canadian Massage Therapy Council for Accreditation. Visit the program page to learn more.