Therapainting: Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s rookie artists learn self-enriching skill


They started with proverbial blank canvases, and by the time the painting session was over, each had put personal touches to their work.

Art instructor and volunteer Susan Gross kicks off the session with some of the participants clearly engrossed. The YMCA hosted a painting class for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's patients.

The special thing was that most of the dozen painters doing their thing at the Greater Marco Family YMCA were people coping with Parkinson’s disease. A couple were caregivers, and two were Alzheimer’s patients.

“There are no mistakes in art,” said art instructor Susan Gross, formerly of California and now ensconced happily on Marco as she kicked off the session. “You paint how you want to, and today we’re going to do a basic sea and beachscape."

She started on her own canvas with a horizontal line to represent the horizon, but emphasized that it need not be dead center or dead straight.

Thereafter, she explained and demonstrated the loose technique she was looking for.

Within five minutes of experimenting with different acrylics and colors and brush strokes, no two paintings looked at all alike.

The Y’s Healthy Living Director, Deborah Passero, dreamed up the idea of bringing in Gross after she saw some paintings by previous students.

“The idea was to engage this group in a different area,” she said, adding that most of the Parkinson’s patients enjoy a popular program called Rock Steady Boxing.

She figured that giving painting a try would be therapeutic because it involves hand/eye coordination as well as mental focus.

The works of art are currently on display in the foyer of the Greater Marco Family YMCA. The YMCA hosted a painting class for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's patients.

This, of course, could be more than challenging for people with less-than-perfect fine motor skills and sometimes tremors, Passero said, but from the outset the group of painters was clearly enthralled by Gross’s firm but easygoing delivery up at her easel.

Example: Up front, she told them, “Don’t scrub like you’re painting a fence. And, don’t let the paint dry before you get to the next color.”

Towards the end of the session, Gross suggested people put in a tree or shrubs in their foreground of their paintings, and pointed out that palm trees – for example – could contain combinations of all sorts of colors, including of course green, but also yellows and reds.

Bill Laimbeer, known for expressing his opinions with a touch of humor, obliged this time around as well.

“I don’t like trees on my beaches,” he said in a big, baritone voice, much to the amusement of the rest of the group.

Afterwards Passero paid tribute to Gross, whom she said had never worked with chronic disease sufferers, and had now volunteered to work with them at the Y.

“We all need to express ourselves, so it’s great seeing people focus in on something they can do for pleasure in their 70s,” Passero said.

The upshot is that the paintings for the moment hang in the Greater Marco YMCA foyer for all members to enjoy.

For information on this program, as well as the wide variety of activities for adults and youth, visit marcoymca.org, or call 394-3144.