Kazuko has been coming to Alzheimer’s Family Center (AFC) for over a year and a half. Known to most people here as “Kako”, her constant cheerful mood and great talent for art never goes unnoticed.
“My mother was never a professional artist”, says Karen Mizumoto, Kako’s daughter. “Her father was very artistic and she always enjoyed art herself, but it was not until she retired that she started to paint, mainly with watercolors.”
Kako was born into a family of eight kids in Phoenix, Arizona. Her parents, who were Japanese American farmers, owned a produce and shipping company before their family was sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kako was in second grade when they were released. “My Mom moved to California for her Bachelor’s degree,” says Karen. “She got a Teaching Degree, and taught for a little while until she got married to my Dad, in 1962. Then, she took care of my brother Gary and me, and started working again in the late 1970s, first as a Social Security administrator, and then as a government investigator in the Defense Department. My Dad passed away in 1999, and my Mom retired shortly after, in 2001.”
When Kako got diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment by the UC Irvine Medical Center, Karen made the decision to move in with her. “My mother did not want to leave her house in Long Beach, and my brother is married, so I moved in with her. When it got unsafe to leave her for long hours unattended, we hired a caretaker, but I could see that it was not the right option for her. I did not want her to stay at home with only one person to talk to. My brother and I found Alzheimer’s Family Services Center, and it is perfect for her – she now gets out the house, socializes, and remains active thanks to the great variety of activities that are offered there. I work in Irvine, so I drop her off in the morning, and pick her up in the evening. It works out really well for everyone.”
“I enjoy painting with watercolors; they’re subtle and soothing”
Several of the watercolor paintings that Kako created in art therapy sessions at AFSC were featured at the Huntington Beach Art Center’s “Art and Dementia” exhibit this past February. She commented on the watercolor painting that she named herself An American Desert: “This is a landscape from Arizona, where I grew up. It was beautiful during the season when flowers would bloom.”
AFSC staff and patients walk by to admire her painting. Kako laughs and modestly replies, “It’s still a work in progress.”