AUGUSTA, Ga. – Twenty years of living with Parkinson’s disease has robbed Margaret Carden of many things, including her ability to walk and care for herself. The 81-year-old Army veteran and resident of Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home has such limited mobility that she often has trouble with the smallest things, like brushing her hair.
But Parkinson’s has not robbed Carden of one thing – her desire to be independent.
“She came to the occupational therapists asking for an extended comb,” says GA War Occupational Therapist Laurie Cordaro. “She had such limited range of motion that reaching her hand to her hair was virtually impossible for her.”
Another daunting task for her? Painting. “As a little girl, I always had a paint brush in my hand,” Carden says.
But in adversity, her therapist saw opportunity.
“A good therapist looks for a purposeful activity, rather than something meaningless, to increase strength and endurance in their patients,” Cordaro says. “When Mrs. Carden came to us, we began asking her about the types of things she enjoyed. We realized that she liked painting, and I thought we could adapt that to help her.”
By simply changing the height of a table used to hold her paint and brushes, Cordaro changed a lot more.
“She had been using a (resistance band) to increase her range of motion, but her love of painting and a simple table adjustment allowed her to improve that even more. It’s not just her range of motion that has improved. Painting has been good therapy, both physically and emotionally.”
The same is true for fellow residents Capt. Pete Ackermann, a Navy veteran, and Col. Judy Mosbey, who served in the Air Force, both of whom also use painting as therapy.
“When (my wife and I) got married, we didn’t have anything to hang on the walls, so I painted pictures. “Painting relaxes me,” Ackermann, who served in the Navy for 24 years, says.
It shows, Cordaro says.
“When answering the 15 questions on the Geriatric Depression Scale, where a low score equates to a lower level of depression, these residents are scoring lower now than ever before,” she says. “They have a more cheerful demeanor and show more concern for and interest in others. It has worked so well that we now ask about patient interests at admission and start incorporating those into therapy right away.”
The GA War painters are also award winners. Carden’s postcard, “Field of Poppies,” won second place overall in the Elk’s State Art Competition and first place in the local competition. Mosbey and Ackermann placed second and third in the local competition, respectively.
“A few months ago, Mrs. Margaret couldn’t brush her hair and it would take her 30 minutes to push her wheelchair from rehab to the lobby because she only had the strength to push herself two inches at a time,” Cordaro says admiringly. “She has never painted in watercolors before either. Her progress is just remarkable. She’s one of my heroes in so many ways with her grit and determination to accomplish the simplest things – things we (often) do without even thinking.”
The Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home, operated through an interagency agreement between Georgia Regents University and the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, is located at 1101 15th St. The home provides continuous professional nursing care to veterans of Georgia who have served in the armed forces during war times and is considered a leader in the area of geriatric educational training for Georgia Regents University. The home provided care to an average 168 veterans, with room for 188, each day in FY 2012. For more information about GA War, contact 706-721-2405.