Why art is good for Alzheimer's patients

Art therapy can trigger dormant memories and emotions for those afflicted with the disease

Published September 25, 2012 10:46PM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on Hyperallergic.

Hyperallergic Art is a powerful sensory experience — looking at a piece of work and thinking through it sharpens concentration, brings back memories, and stirs emotions, as anyone who has experienced Stendhal Syndrome can attest. The Berman Museum of Art in Collegeville, Pennsylvania is taking advantage of these unique qualities of art to treat Alzheimer’s patients, who find they can focus and remember more while discussing works of art.

Curators from the Berman Museum are bringing selections from their collection to Parkhouse, a nearby nursing facility, to do some testing in preparation for a new exhibition meant for the mentally handicapped called “Access-Ability,” reports WHYY’s Newsworks. Viewing the art (shown in laminated print form, of course) provokes calm discussion and even laughter among the patients, for whom total lucidity is a rarity.

Alzheimer’s attacks certain parts of the brain but leaves others intact and functioning, including some forms of memory and rote learning skills. The visual art provides an avenue to trigger these dormant memories and emotions, a therapeutic experience for patients who are often unable to express themselves. It’s not so much about properly analyzing the art as it is beginning a conversation — “We’re focused on having an exchange, having their voices heard and validated,” said the Berman Museum’s director of education Susan Shifrin.

“The creative arts can reunite even a late stage Alzheimer’s sufferer with parts of their former self,” explains Huffington Post’s Rosalia Gitau in a review of the documentary I Remember Better When I Paint. The documentary (seen above) demonstrates art’s absolutely inspiring impact on dementia sufferers. They seem happy and relaxed painting and molding clay, tapping into the fundamental creative spirit that we all share. “People still have imaginations intact even at the very, very end of their progressive disease,” explains Judy Holstein, director of Chicago’s CJE Senior Life Day Service, in the documentary. Art therapy gives patents a way to express that resilient spirit.

By Kyle Chayka

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Alzheimer's Disease Berman Museum Of Art Hyperallergic Stendhal Syndrome The Huffington Post