Posts Tagged ‘art therapy’

Rescuing Memories (University of Alabama Alumni Magazine, fall 2011)

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

How Do You Connect?

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

As dementia progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to connect with our loved ones. I often get questions about this from caregivers, friends and family alike. As time goes on, this inability to connect causes family and friends to visit less frequently, leaving the person with dementia and the caregiver socially isolated at a time when they need the most support.

How can you connect with a person with dementia? Often, the creative arts are the key. Don’t stop reading! You don’t have to be an artist, musician or have any type talent at all to employ these therapies! They’re very simple and easy to use.

Music: People with dementia usually remember things from the distant past, so choose your songs accordingly. What music did the person listen to in their late teens and twenties? If you don’t know, google “top forty songs” and put in the year when the person would have been 18 or 20 years old. You will get a list of what was popular at the time. Play and sing along with these songs, and you may be amazed at what happens. If nothing happens, keep trying! This process takes time. Additionally, if the person is religious or was in their childhood, try singing and playing the hymns of their youth. At a point when my father-in-law with Alzheimer’s disease had not spoken in several months and was in an in-patient hospice unit, we began singing familiar hymns. Amazingly, he could sing along! This is a relatively common experience. There is an excellent video from available on Youtube, Gladys Wilson and Naomi Feil , that gives an example of this. Music can help bridge the communication gap with people in any stage of dementia.

Art: Lester Potts, a rural Alabama sawmiller, was the quintessential child of the Great Depression: he was all about work. He would have considered painting pictures (for himself) wasted time. As Alzheimer’s disease stole more and more of his cognitive ability, he began attending a dementia daycare center where a retired artist volunteered his time. The results were astounding. At a point when he could no longer hammer a nail or change a light bulb, he became a watercolor artist, although he had never painted before. Even in late stage Alzheimer’s disease when he had lost the ability to speak, he could paint visual images of his childhood. (To see a short documentary film, go to Painting in Twilight, An Artist\’s Escape from Alzheimer\’s Disease). To do this at home, start with some very simple artist’s supplies, not children’s crayons and coloring books. You can buy the “Paint by Number” kits or just let the person paint whatever she wants.

Dance: I heard a story a few days ago about a woman who had been a dancer in her youth, but now had dementia. She lived in a facility and used to twirl down the halls. Most of us danced in our youth, either at school dances or as part of a hobby. If your loved one is still able to walk, play music from their heyday and dance! If the person is not able to walk, the “dancing” does not have to involve their legs. Let them move their arms to the music or take their hands in yours and pretend to dance.

Bibliotherapy: This is a fancy word for an easy concept — reading familiar things. Think of the poetry or the stories the person might have memorized or read in their youth. If the person was religious, think about familiar scriptures. Make certain to read the passages from the version the person would have read in their youth, not a more modern version.

Expressive arts therapies have been clinically proven to improve mood and behavior apart from medication, and they have no known negative side effects. Even in the mainstream medical community, the value of these therapies is being touted. (The upcoming medical textbook, Geriatric Neurology, to be published later this year by Prentice Hall has an entire chapter on the benefits of expressive arts therapies.) More importantly, the expressive arts offer caregivers, family and friends alike the ability to connect with people who often are considered to be beyond our ability to reach them. Remember, the goal is not the quality of the product or the performance, but connecting with your loved one in ways that are not possible otherwise. If you are diligent in using these techniques, amazing things can happen.

“Painting in Twilight ~ An Artist’s Escape from Alzheimer’s”

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

“Painting in Twilight ~ An Artist’s Escape from Alzheimer’s” will be presented at the David W. Streets Gallery in Beverly Hills, CA on Friday, November 5th, 2010, 7 – 9 pm.  This exhibit, sponsored by the American Academy of Neurology and Cognitive Dynamics Foundation, chronicles Lester Potts’ transformation from a rural Alabama lumberman to a watercolor artist, having never painted before his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease.

Formerly capable man who could repair anything, Lester Potts began attending Caring Days Adult Daycare Center at a point when he could no longer put the lights on the Christmas tree or hammer a nail.  In his depression over his lack of ability, he never smiled and cried frequently.  However, at Caring Days, Lester was exposed to creative arts therapies, including watercolor painting.  George Parker, a local artist, volunteered his time there and taught Lester to paint.  Over the next four years, Lester painted about 100 watercolor paintings.  His art gave him something of which he could be proud again.  As a consequence, his behavior, mood and cognition improved and since his death in 2007, his art has been shown internationally.

As an aside, George Parker (the art teacher) had a life-changing experience of his own.  Before he began teaching art at Caring Days, he had a heart attack and was clinically dead.  He saw the light at the end of the tunnel — the standard death experience we’ve all heard about.  What was different about George is that once he was “brought back,” he told God, “You’ve obviously saved me for a reason.  Tell me what you want me to do.”  For the next 5 years, George taught watercolor painting in eldercare facilities all over West Central Alabama.  At Lester’s funeral, Lester’s son told George, “We are so grateful for all the things you taught Dad.”  George’s reply? “You haven’t seen anything yet.”  A month later, George died and we never found out exactly what he meant.  However, I would imagine the Beverly Hills exhibition of art painted by this lumberman from Pine Grove, AL must be a part of it.

Twenty-one of Mr. Potts’ paintings will be shown, arranged chronologically to show the changes in his art throughout the course of his disease.  If you can’t come to Beverly Hills, we hope to post video on Youtube after the show.

On the web:

David W. Streets Gallery

Cognitive Dynamics Foundation

American Academy of Neurology