Someone You Should Know: For people with dementia, art & essential oils combine for therapy

Someone You Should Know

If you’ve ever watched Bob Ross or painted along with his old PBS show, you know how relaxing it can be to create art.

It can even be therapeutic.

An employee at a local retirement community has become a sort of “Bob Ross” for people in memory care — not just in North Dakota, but around the country.

“I have a love of art, and I didn’t realize that it would be this big!” says Whitney Ruscheinsky, a Life Enrichment Coordinator at Touchmark on West Century in Bismarck.

She’s talking about her program, Fragrance in Frames. It’s meant to boost the mood and the well-being of people living with dementia by combining the joy of painting with essential oils.

For instance, on the day I visited her, 91-year-old Bobbe Green was painting with a lemon scent.

“Lemon can bring back, I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, mom was cleaning!’ That lemony smell. Or Bobbe made that sour lemon face.”

Ruscheinsky launched Fragrance in Frames in 2017. She says the program has been found to decrease negative behaviors — and lower the use of mind-altering medication for people in memory care.

Bobbe’s husband Dick says he sees the difference. “She has never really been an artist,” he says. “It’s something that’s really new, and I think it’s good because she likes it, and is relaxed, and comfortable with the people teaching her.”

As for Whitney, her methods have earned her some big accolades, including an award from the International Council on Active Aging.

“My supervisor said, ‘You’d better sit down, I have something to tell you.'” she recalls. “I sat down and said, ‘What’s going on?’ She said, ‘The program — it won.’ And I said, ‘You’re kidding me!’ Like, I couldn’t believe it!”

Now, Fragrance in Frames is being used in memory care units all over the country. And that’s big — because Whitney says the union of art and oils can be life-changing.

“I’ll say, ‘Remember that art we did?’ And usually in Memory Care, they say ‘Don’t say remember. Don’t say remember.’ But I’ll say ‘Do you remember the painting we did?’ And they’ll be like, ‘Oh! Yeah!’ And it’s been months — so it must have made some type of impact on them.”

That’s why Whitney Ruscheinsky is Someone You Should Know.

Whitney doesn’t just work with folks in memory care. She also teaches painting classes once a month for people in independent and assisted living at Touchmark.

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