More than 5.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease, one of the most common causes of dementia. The loss of their memory often threatens their independence as well.
7Everyday Hero Susie Frey helps people living with dementia regain some control in their lives.
It starts with simply picking up a paint brush.
"It is Memories in the Making, it's the art program of the Alzheimer's Association," said Lisa Steffen, Memories in the Making Program Coordinator.
Memories in the Making is a nationwide program that's been around for 20 years. Frey is one of almost 50 facilitators across the state volunteering for the Alzheimer's Association of Colorado's Memories in the Making program.
"Personal expression is important, that's something that becomes more difficult during the progression of the disease," Steffen said.
Colorado has more than 100 care communities, like Arbor View Senior Community in Arvada, that guide 400 people a week through this reawakening via art.
"We hope that one of the benefits of the program is to tap into windows of past memories," Frey said.
Frey is an artist who has volunteered her time as a facilitator with Memories in the Making, volunteering every week for 18 years.
She said painting something from the past, even for those who have never tried it, is like reminiscing over a photo album.
That is true for both the artist and the family of the loved one living with Alzheimer's.
"Sometimes we hear, 'I didn't know mother was painting,' and sometimes we hear, 'Oh, I never heard this story of the horse," Frey said.
Frey patiently draws a story or memory out of each artist as they paint.
"Susie has a gift," Steffen said.
And Frey writes each recalled memory down because she said she believes every life has a story worth remembering.
To learn more about the Alzheimer's Association of Colorado's Memories in the Making program go to www.alz.org/co.
Mitch Jelniker anchors Denver7 in the mornings from 4:30 to 7 a.m. He also features a different 7Everyday Hero each week on Denver7. Follow Mitch on Facebook and Twitter. Nominate a 7Everyday hero here.