National Heritage Board launches art therapy trial to stimulate memories for seniors

The programme involves bringing five replicas of paintings to seniors in six nursing homes and senior activity centres.
The programme involves bringing five replicas of paintings to seniors in six nursing homes and senior activity centres.ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN
The paintings feature parts of Singapore in the 1970s to 1980s.
The paintings feature parts of Singapore in the 1970s to 1980s.ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

SINGAPORE - When Madam Leow, 79, saw a replica of Ice Ball Man, a 1978 painting which depicts an Indian vendor of the popular shaved ice treat typically drizzled in evaporated milk and colourful syrups, it brought back memories of her childhood.

Madam Leow, a client at daycare centre Sheng Hong Active Ageing Hub, is one of eight seniors there participating in an art therapy trial programme which was launched by the National Heritage Board (NHB) and Heritage Conservation Centre on Friday (Dec 4).

The programme involves bringing five replicas of paintings - featuring parts of Singapore in the 1970s to 1980s - to seniors in six nursing homes and senior activity centres.

Facilitated by an art therapist via video conferencing platform Zoom, the seniors are prompted to share their observations from the paintings and, in the process, jog memories of their past.

Mr Alvin Tan, deputy chief executive of policy and community at NHB, said he hopes the paintings and art therapy workshops will bring about deeper reflections and foster connections among seniors.

"Covid-19 has effectively put a stop to museum visits involving seniors from nursing homes and activity centres so we had to innovate and develop a programme to bring our works of art to where the seniors are," he said.

The paintings depict scenes of a bird singing contest, a popular leisure activity commonly seen in public housing estates; hawkers and patrons celebrating National Day in Newton hawker centre; a bustling fresh food market in Rochor Canal; and  Kampung Loyang, a village which used to exist in the eastern part of Singapore.

They are by local pioneer artists Chua Mia Tee, Lee Boon Wang and  Leng Joon Wong.

The replicas will be at each nursing home or senior activity centre for one week at a time, where an hour-long session will be conducted for a group of eight seniors.

Additionally, craft activities such as making photo frames using recycled newspaper and fabric strips will also be conducted to encourage seniors to exercise their dexterity.

Mr Tan added that based on feedback from the trial, which runs from this month to January next year, NHB hopes to scale up the programme to include more seniors and other under-served communities such as youths at risk.