Visitors with Alzheimer’s Tour Nasher

New Nasher Museum partnership gives tours to families facing early-stage Alzheimer’s

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Gail Sloane with her husband, Bill, during a recent tour at the Nasher Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of the Duke Family Support Program

Couples crowded around a silver painting and stared at floating ovals and faint, stitch-like lines. The name of the painting at the Nasher Museum of Art hadn’t been revealed yet to the afternoon group, leaving the artwork up to interpretation. The piece looks like a little pond filled with water plants, someone mused aloud. Or an embroidered, cheerful silverscape, added another.“We do have some real question marks,” said Jessica Ruhle, the Nasher’s associate curator of education and the tour leader that day. “It’s a real narrative, and we can piece together our own stories for it.” The group gazing upon “Cloud Garden” by Pinaree Sanpitak were care partners and their family members diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Every month, familiar and new faces gather together for lunch in the Nasher Museum Café and a guided tour of the exhibits. The program, known as “Reflections: The Nasher Museum Azheimer’s Project,” has tour participants study the sculptures and paintings and share their personal interpretations of the pieces.This Nasher tour started in 2014 when the museum partnered with the Duke Family Support Program, which provides information, care tips and support groups for families facing Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders. The Museum of Modern Art in New York has organized a similar tour program since 2007 for people with dementia, and the Nasher wanted to create its own version.“The tour involves just such a wonderful group of people and relationships,” said Bobbi Matchar, a clinical social worker with the Duke Family Support Program. “It feels like family in a way.”The men and women participating in these Nasher tours are navigating memory loss and sometimes may take longer to search for the right words when speaking. They may be experiencing a loss of independence from Alzheimer’s, such as having to give up driving. Currently, the tours are only open to participants in support groups (see sidebar), but as part of “Reflections,” plans are underway to expand tours and offer them to people with mid- and late-stage Alzheimer’s disease beginning this summer.Every time there’s a tour, which is scheduled once a month, there’s a standout moment, organizers say. Every visit incorporates live music or a hands-on art activity, and one time, a participant began playing drums with a visiting Spanish guitarist. For Gail Sloane, this Nasher experience provides her husband, Bill, with the chance to be around “people like me.” Bill was diagnosed in Burlington about three years ago with dementia.“It’s just one of the highlights of my husband’s month,” Gail said. “He asks just about every day, ‘Are we going to the Nasher today?’ When he goes there, he feels very comfortable talking to the other people with a very similar diagnosis.” The tour group has visited the Nasher’s recent Miró and Rauschenberg exhibitions. The Archibald Motley jazz age exhibition brought back memories for tour participants of big heels, big bands and smoking indoors.  In the museum, the tour group has listened to guitarists and vocalists and created their own art.But more than that, families find a group of friends, where they can talk about alternative housing or medication options, where a misplaced word in a sentence doesn’t faze anyone. The tours bring together people going through the same problems, the Sloanes said. “When you get finished with it, it’s like you’re renewed and regenerated,” Bill said. “With this Alzheimer’s thing, you could really get down, but what happens with our group is we know that all of us know that we’re having problems, but we’re supporting each other.”