COKATO, DASSEL, MN The Spirit of Freedom is a therapy station designed by a local artist to resemble a car, and has been used by local long-term care facilities as a therapeutic treatment for those with dementia.
Dassel-Cokato art teacher David Nord worked with art students at the Area Learning Center (ALC) to complete the project.
“The name I have chosen for all of my professional creative efforts in my home studios, is summed up in this acronym, A.W.E. Art as Worship and Evangelism,” Nord said of the project.
“I sought ways to inspire my ALC art students to create and contribute to the community through art by contacting several local institutions about projects I could create with the aid of my students in a master/apprentice teaching approach,” he continued.
Over the course of two years, the concept of the dementia therapy station car developed in Nord’s heart and mind, first starting as a wall panel painting, but maturing to the idea of creating an interactive stimulation environment.
“The groundwork for such a venture came from reflecting upon the 110 public murals which I directed overseas students to create,” Nord said.
The Spirit of Freedom therapeutic station combines something tactile, auditory, visual, and instructional, offering pathways to a user’s identity, he explained.
Spirit of Freedom is portable, with the ability to be used in any long-term care facility.
“A car is one of our strongest symbols of independence and freedom, saturated with a myriad of memories upon which to reflect,” Nord commented.
The project and plans came full-circle when a willing class of students stepped forward to offer its contribution in completing Spirit of Freedom for area therapists who were consulted for the project.
ALC students were invited, challenged, and motivated to become part of the artistic and philanthropic endeavor, the goal of which was to positively impact elders in the community by reinforcement of their dignity of personhood using interactive stimuli to stir life reflections, according to Nord.
“Their valued contribution consisted of plywood cutting and priming, pulling of car parts from a salvage yard, and the partially developed under-painting process of the three window painted visuals,” Nord said.
Nord himself finished designing, funding, engineering, painting, and constructing the project throughout the 2014 summer.
Over the course of the next few months, the project served its purpose at Cokato Manor, Lake View Ranch in Dassel, and at Ecumen of Litchfield Bethany assisted living home.
Nord noted that inspiration for creating his art comes “from a lifelong friendship with the One who remembered my desperate need, and loved me fully to forgive and forget my sin.”
Nord explained his process for creating a project such as this as follows:
• one learns of someone’s suffering;
• the heart stirs with compassion;
• ideas and abilities form alliance;
• purpose plans pathway;
• imagination associates with potential;
• needs befriend provision;
• physics instructs fabrication;
• function and beauty marry in purpose;
• hope connects labor in unity;
• loving others’ fosters dignity.
Faith guides his work
“I celebrate the joy and the hope others receive from those who care,” Nord said. “But most importantly, I enjoy leading people to eternal hope of complete restoration above, which is always accessible.”
While he wants those who are “driving the car to feel as if they are actually driving down a country road, ultimately he wants them to “discover that the greatest freedom is in trusting God, for his faithfulness always fully redeems one’s soul, not only memories,” Nord commented.
The therapy car is made almost completely of salvaged materials, according to Nord.
“It is created with a mutual empathy, for just as all things of this world break down and rust, it is destined for all of mankind to also age and die once,” he said in explanation of why he chose recycled materials. “Yet a loving God is intent on giving anyone the grace of eternal life, where all things will be made new.”
Although the extent of the benefits for those who use Spirit of Freedom is not known, that is OK with Nord.
“No good is ever wasted or ineffective,” Nord said. “When we witness goodness, receive goodness, or give goodness, its presence and power saturates even the cynic’s heart. It can change the entire world, one person at a time.”
Use of Spirit of Freedom at care facilities
It is Nord’s intent to continue to loan Spirit of Freedom to long-term care facilities to be used in therapy sessions, noting it can be loaned to three or four care facilities for an agreed upon length of time each year.
As part of using Spirit of Freedom, long-term care facilities are asked to document therapy session to allow Nord the opportunity to assess the impact of individual’s interactions with Spirit of Freedom under the supervision of participating therapists.
Spirit of Freedom features
The vision of Nord and the ALC students was to make the car look as authentic as possible to enable those using it to feel as if they were in a real car on a road trip.
Each knob, with the exception of the hazard light, can be turned or adjusted, and the steering wheel can be turned.
A glove box can be opened which stores cassettes that can be played in the radio.
Cup holders are supplied to hold refreshments during the duration of each trip.
Some things on the car that add authenticity, but do not move, are the wiper blades and mirrors. However, the visors can be moved, and have an attached mirror.
Although the car key is permanently attached to the dashboard, it can be turned to “start” the car for each trip.
Power to the car is supplied by an extension cord that can be plugged into normal wall outlets. The cord is attached to a power strip mounted in the car.
Suggestions for use of Spirit of Freedom
Nord offers the following suggestions to those who use Spirit of Freedom:
• discuss the operation of a vehicle;
• review the gauges and their uses;
• use and talk about the control knobs;
• talk about the purposes for using a car;
• facilitate memory recollection of trips with the family, first dates, grocery runs, parades, trips to the ball game, bringing the boat to the boat launch, going to church, and other events;
• listen to music to soothe the spirit, associating music types to specific memories, and sharing biblical scripture for positive hope;
• use Spirit of Freedom as reorientation or diversion to calm an upset person;
• use the mirrors for real world awareness and facial recognition skills.
• using the rear view mirrors as lessons about why it is imperative to individual identities to look back and remember;
• set a subdued room atmosphere by turning on the florescent lighting for the window scenes on Spirit of Freedom and dimming normal room lighting to add a sense of freedom from actual location, appreciation for the painted artwork, and to attract interest for those needing its benefits;
• read stories and show the photos inside Spirit of Freedom.
• discuss the meaning of Spirit of Freedom’s name and its intended purpose.
• talk about the scenes in the paintings and the significance of the messages some of the scenes provide about living and faith.
Spirit of Freedom mission statement
The impetus for and the existence of the therapy station “Spirit of Freedom,” is a compassionate response to the isolating dilemma in the tragedy of all forms of dementia.
One loses one’s very identity, bonding to family, friends, and societal inter-connectivity, and physical health with memory loss and the deterioration of autonomic bodily functions. The symbiotic adherence with family, friends, and community is fractured by dementia, rending hearts and relationships long established.
By stimulating interaction and caring treatment through tactile, auditory, visual, conversational, and loving sessions, the intention of therapeutic reconstruction with this portable therapy station is to reconnect the patient to subjects and people of past and present interest and participation, and revitalize the corresponding filaments of meaning still residual within the reach of conscious vigilance.
It is my desire that the veil of distress and dependence within those experiencing dementia will lift enough to enable the light of retained memories, imagination, and loving relationship the restored freedom to travel beyond the limitations of this world, and for each patient to eventually find lasting meaning and significance in the loving hands of God.
We are all individual stories of flowing memories, each concrete recollection linked to its predecessor in the pursuit of life’s meaning and purpose.
Thought together with thought, person interacting with person, event linked to event, each of our chapters is uniquely written upon the aging parchment of personhood.
Sadly, as volumes of uniqueness erase with each blurred name, each indefinite place, each irretrievable event, one with dementia spirals deeper into a shell of incapacitation where cries for help are stifled by the inability to escape the frustration of loss alone.
We must reach out beyond inconvenience or cost to redeem the best for our loved ones in compassionate understanding, even if only to add comfort in their journey.
Memories are the shared and living embraces between us, invisible evidences that we matter, waves that compelled us to be who we now are, and moorings that anchored our past.
This dementia therapy station car is an iconic symbol for our independence as well as interdependence, as life drives us along through landscapes of human interaction.
We must prize our existence and relationships with which we have been graced . . . before memories’ echoes no longer rebound between us, or the expanding emptiness of isolation and abandonment covers unseen as a premature shroud.