Artist plans show to benefit Alzheimer’s program

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NUTLEY, NJ — After spending 30 years in the human resources field, longtime Nutley resident Estelle Roupas is turning her hand away from the keyboard and toward the paintbrush, although still with the goal of guiding others to reach their maximum potential. On Sunday, Oct. 9, from 2 to 6 p.m., Roupas will host an art show titled “Colors of a Woman” at the United Vincent Methodist Church Hall at 100 Vincent Place in Nutley, where a significant portion of the proceeds will help purchase art supplies for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The event will also include a table with representatives from the Greater New Jersey Alzheimer’s Association who will be available to speak about what services and resources their organization offers for both patients and caregivers.

Roupas, or Stella, as she refers to herself for her artwork, began her journey using artwork to reach others when her late mother first began to suffer the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Although she had been painting and doing art prints since 1989, Roupas had to put her art aspirations on hold when her mother’s health condition required additional support from her children.

“Once my mother reached her 80s, she was no longer able to pay her bills or play the board games and puzzles that she used to enjoy. We tried everything to keep her independent and living in her own home in the early stages of the disease,” Roupas said in a phone interview with the Nutley Journal. “I introduced her to coloring fuzzy posters, and it soon became one of her favorite activities that she was still able to do. The ability to select her own colors to use made her feel like a bona fide artist and she grew to love art. She enjoyed using the different colors and she was making different art for everyone.”

Roupas’ mother quickly became passionate about this new activity and spent much of her time creating pieces ranging from pictures frames to bookmarks to Christmas ornaments for loved ones. But there came a time when she was only able to use one color instead of multiple ones, and then she got to a point where she had to stop altogether.

“For six months, my mother was able to do her art work with no trouble and she felt empowered,” Roupas said. “Eventually though, we had to make the very hard decision to put her in a nursing home. It was fairly close to where my sister lived, so every few months I would fly out to stay for three weeks and help my family care for my mother.”

Though Roupas’ mother did not progress to the end-stages of Alzheimer’s disease, she also had aphasia, a condition that prevents a person from being able to converse or speak clearly.

“When my siblings and I were in the nursing home with our mother, we saw the effects that the disease had not only on her but also the other patients suffering from dementias,” she said. “We saw the mental anguish and personal indignities that those with these diseases have to suffer. Our families love and our mother’s bright and positive spirit is what got us through it.”

In 2014, Roupas’ mother died due to respiratory-related illness, and Roupas began thinking of different ways that she could reach out to other families whose loved ones had Alzheimer’s disease and be of some benefit to them.

She recalled the love that her mother had, not only for the art that Roupas had been doing for more than 20 years but also the fuzzy posters she had enjoyed doing once her disease progressed and she wasn’t able to go about her normal daily routine.

Roupas realized that many of the patients in nursing homes could use a creative outlet, even if they couldn’t verbalize it to their families, and she knew just how to give them their words.

“A lot of people in the nursing homes can’t get out of their rooms to go do activities with everyone else, but they can still color,” she said. “They still have physical abilities, so why not bring the activities to them?”

Roupas began talking with friends whose own family members were suffering from Alzheimer’s and related diseases about how much coloring had helped her mother, and the positive reactions she received made her realize that she was onto something great.

“Now I am working with the Greater New Jersey Alzheimer’s Association to learn how to be a group facilitator for caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s,” she said. “Once I am done with this training, my idea is to work with the caregivers and provide them with art supplies that they can use with their family members.

“My mother was one of the biggest supporters of my art work, and it just feels like it’s my time to give back. I was scared at first to do something like this, because dementia is kind of a private disease, and sometimes people don’t want to talk about it, and they don’t want others to know that it exists in their family,” continued Roupas. “But now I am embracing the idea that we always told our mother, that it’s not easy to be different, but it’s OK to be different.”

Much of Roupas art work depicts the many roles that a woman can have throughout in her life: daughter, aunt, wife, and mother. Her hope is that her pieces will not only inspire others, but more importantly, create awareness about a devastating disease.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s disease is officially listed as the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States. It is the fifth-leading cause of death for people age 65 and older. In addition, Alzheimer’s is the only disease among the top 10 causes of death in America that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Stella, and we’re excited about this new relationship and working with her,” said Robyn Kohn, manager of programs for the Greater New Jersey Alzheimer’s Association, in a recent phone interview with the Nutley Journal. “

We work with the same communities that she is trying to reach and she will be bringing art to them,” she said.

Kohn said that during the support group training that Roupas will be doing, she will learn about group dynamics, different disease stages, and the different types of resources available for both patients and caregivers. The admission fee for this event is $5, and 100 percent of the admission fee plus 10 percent of all profits from the sale of artwork will go toward the purchase of art supplies for Alzheimer’s patients.