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It's Tuesday afternoon and Allan Lofsky arrives at the Dotsa Bitove Wellness Academy, an artistic space for persons living with dementia. Today, during open studio time with Academy Artist Katia Engell, he will work on a landscape painting inspired by the Group of Seven.
On an average day, 25 to 30 people will come through the doors of the Academy in midtown Toronto, often with their care partners, to participate in a variety of programs.
"I especially like the artwork," says Allan, who has been coming to the Academy for the past two years. "I feel good, I can display my artistic side and capabilities."
The Academy is a creative, educational program operated in partnership between UHN and York University. It's for adults living with memory loss due to mild to moderate dementia, as well as their families and their care partners.
Through artistic expression, exercise and discussion, Academy members, care partners, students, staff and volunteers are able to participate in a number of activities while creating new relationships.
Earlier this month, the Academy began construction to expand its facilities. It will double the space and add new dedicated program areas to provide more choice for members.
The additional space will also help to improve traffic flow with more room for people to navigate the Academy with canes, walkers and wheelchairs, and help avoid overcrowding. The addition of a universal washroom will provide additional safety and room for caregiver assistance, but most importantly will enable the Academy to increase membership and share the philosophy of relational arts-based caring with the community, volunteers, students and other healthcare professionals.
"As a team, we are so excited to embark on this adventure," Velta Vikmanis, Artistic and Program Manager for the Academy, says of the changes to come. "The expansion will allow us to welcome even more people to become part of the Academy family and experience our unique programming.
"It gives us the opportunity to further grow our team and to continue challenging the preconceived notions and tragedy discourse about dementia. When the relationship is the priority, the possibilities and experiences are astounding."
Katia says that in addition to being "one of our most prolific painters," Allan is also a key member of the Academy community.
"We spend lots of time together in open studio, and I truly consider him a friend," Katia says. "You never know what poignant nuggets of wisdom (and humour) he might throw your way.
"There's nothing quite as fun and relaxing as an afternoon of art making, laughter, and conversation with Allan and our other friends at the Academy."
Myrna, Allan's wife and care partner, who at times accompanies him to the Academy, says that she has seen many positive changes in her husband since they began coming to its programs. Not only has he made new friends, she says, but the space has become like a second home for him.
The Academy serves as a refuge for Myrna, too. She participates in programs, including one entitled "Care Partner Conversations."
"Like Allan, I have also met new friends at those meetings, which make me realize I am not alone," she says. "Coming here gives me a break to be myself and not get emotionally exhausted.
"It's an oasis in the middle of the city."
Read more about the Dotsa Bitove Wellness Academy [Editor's Note: Link is no longer available]