How IMA tours are fighting early-stage Alzheimer’s 

Meet Me at the IMA is an art therapy and community building program

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The tour group slowed to examine their first item: Diane M. Kiemeyer’s Take Out Time. They were asked to sit and examine the piece before being led through a detailed discussion. Quickly, the individuals begin to open up, letting their imaginations freely steer a 15-minute conversation about the painting. This process continued with several other works in the gallery, before the group eventually splits off to enjoy each one on their own.

This group was a slightly different crowd from the typical gathering at an IMA exhibition. The 10 elderly men and women, all with early-stage Alzheimer’s, have the opportunity to participate in conversations that are curated just for them about installations at the museum.


Every fourth Tuesday of the month, a scene similar to this transpires at the IMA, thanks to the museum’s Meet Me at the IMA tours. A partnership between the IMA and the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter, the program was launched back in September 2013 to give individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s an opportunity to participate in facilitated conversations of artworks from the IMA collection alongside their care partner, family and friends.

With knowledge of a similar program’s success at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York, Linda Altmeyer, programs director at the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter, initially approached the IMA about coordinating tours for individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s after her organization received a grant from the Klapper Family Foundation.

“I modeled my idea after Meet Me at MoMA, which I always was intrigued by,” says Altmeyer, an Indiana University School of Medicine graduate. “I thought, ‘Gosh, what a neat program. It’s so simple, and it creates this sense of community for individuals that might otherwise feel inhibited.’”

click to enlarge A docent at the IMA leads Meet Me at the IMA, a partnership between the IMA and the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter.
  • A docent at the IMA leads Meet Me at the IMA, a partnership between the IMA and the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter.

After working through specifics, arrangements were made to have someone from MoMA come and train IMA docents on guiding these tours. Additionally, the docents were given in-depth education on early-stage Alzheimer’s.

“Our job with the Alzheimer’s group is a little different from what it is with the regular museum patron,” explains Marilyn Dapper, who has worked as a docent with the IMA since 2002. “With the patrons, they want information. They want to learn about the artists and all those kinds of things, which is fine. But these individuals just want to talk, and that’s good for them and it’s good for the museum.”

Several of the benefits from early-stage Alzheimer’s programs like this were highlighted in a study done by the New York University Center of Excellence for Brain Aging and Dementia, which took an in-depth look at Meet Me at MoMA’s impact on its participants.
In particular, the study highlights a correlation between the tours and a positive emotional carryover: “For both the persons with dementia and their caregivers there were positive changes to mood both directly after the program and in the days following the Museum visit,” according to the study. Additionally, it sheds light on the fact that these individuals with dementia continued to come back to the MoMA tours.

In looking at the success of Meet Me at the IMA, Jennifer Todd, manager of docent programs, believes the welcoming environment of the tours is what keeps individuals coming back.

“It’s really designed to be a special opportunity to leave the struggles of the world behind and just be able to spend time together in community, talking about the art,” says Todd. “Sometimes the art inspires memories. Sometimes it’s the colors or the theme or the mood. It all depends on the group and what they bring that day in terms of where the discussion goes.”

After moving from Maryland to Indiana about a year ago, Bill Forehand, 81, and his wife who has early-stage Alzheimer’s learned of Meet Me at the IMA and decided to give it a try.

“We found out about it when my daughter, who lives really close to us here in Indiana, told us about the Alzheimer’s Association and got us signed up for this arts program and another program downtown with the Indianapolis Symphony [called Musical Moments],” says Forehand. Considering he also works as a guide at the Eiteljorg Museum, Forehand explains that Meet Me at the IMA has really been a great way for him and his wife to get out of the house and do something fun together.

“I like this kind of stuff, and she likes it too,” he says. “It really helps to get out and meet other people that have the same condition she has.”

At the end of the day, initiating that connection is really what Meet Me at the IMA was created to do in the first place, explains Altmeyer.

“They really bring joy to each other’s lives, and the Alzheimer’s Association needs to provide a forum for people to do that and to socialize,” she concludes. “They just enjoy each other. They giggle and they laugh and they share silly stories. It just provides them with a sense of community that they’ve otherwise lost.”

If you go:
Meet Me at the IMA tour
fourth Tuesday of every month
next meeting: Dec. 22, 2-4 p.m.
Price included with admission
Meet on Floor 1 at the Welcome Desk
Registration required through the Alzheimer’s Association, 1-800-272-3900


Other ways you can volunteer in art therapy

Art with a Heart
About: Provides art classes for at-risk children.
What you can do: Artist-in-Residence for a week of summer camp, teach an art class for an after-school program (or Kindergarten class) or assist an existing teacher, work in the office and/or preparing art materials for programming.
Fine print: All volunteer opportunities are available to adults and high school students ages 14 and up. artwithaheart.us/volunteer

Julian Center
About: Provides various social services and housing to women and children
What you can do: There are plenty of volunteer opportunities. While none are directly art related, they are currently in need of childcare assistance. What kid doesn't like art projects?
Fine print: Hours vary between 9 a.m. – 8 p.m., Monday -Thursday. Contact Katy Pieters at (317) 941-2212.

Area 10
About: Provides classes and services for seniors, persons with disabilities and family caregivers in Monroe and Owen counties.
What you can do: The Endwright Center needs teachers for exercise, nutrition, art, crafts, or computer classes.
Fine print: Location is near Bloomington. (812) 876-3383

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