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Faces of Research: Emily Mills '14

Emily Mills '14  was majoring in both art and psychology, and she wanted to do research that encapsulated her love of both.

Add in her passion and respect for the elderly, and she began to formulate an idea,"Art, Aging & Memory" that would provide two semesters of study - as well as teach her a lot about herself.

Photo by: Cammera Archie; Art by: Emily Mills

The presentation for the Research Symposium began as her Honors Program thesis project, which she conducted over the past two semesters: qualitative research on the role of arts-based activities for elders living in long-term care facilities. It consisted of three groups of participants, each doing activities that engaged memory and art and community.

In the first session, the elder individuals shared a significant memory from their past. In the second and third sessions, participants created a visual keepsake box to represent their memory. Emily interviewed the participants, then painted or drew their memories and did more interviews and analysis.

One of the patients told Emily about the time when her second husband took her on a trip to the Florida Keys, including a flight on a sea plane.

"It was a big surprise for her, because she had asked her husband if they could go on a sea plane but he told her it was too expensive," Emily recalls. "The woman said she had never seen anything like it before, and the view was so beautiful. She said that no one had ever done anything so nice for her. He was a quiet man, but this act of kindness communicated love to her."

Emily's research included 13 participants - an intense experience. She selected the pieces in the photo below because they were very happy memories. Not all of them were so joyful.

Emily Mills - art

Photo by: Cammera Archie

"It was hard to walk through, because while I eventually would love to do art therapy and counseling, I have no 'professional' buffer yet," she says. "So while it was incredibly meaningful, it was also really challenging."

Through this process, she developed strong relationships with her participants.

"The elder population is so close to my heart," Emily says. "I think that we need to seek to be thoughtful, mindful and caring toward them - and just offer them fun, creative outlets. They still have so much to offer, and this experience has taught me how to value my own grandfather more - to ask him better questions, to seek his wisdom." 

Emily's research was on display at the 2014 research symposium and at an exhibit in the McFadden Art Gallery. An article based on her work, "Arts-Based Reminiscence through Visual Art and Narrative Analysis: An Intergenerational Exploration," will appear in the American Journal of Recreation Therapy.

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