We present here some comments in the press about using art to restore memory and help Alzheimer’s patients communicate.


Columbus Unity Examiner
New York University
Make It Better Magazine

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Columbus Unity Examiner – Art is seeing the light: Bypassing limitations & supporting the strengths of those with Alzheimer’s

By Kimberly Ann Holle of the Columbus Unity Examiner:

“Memories in the Making” is another art program supported by the Alzheimer’s Association (highlighted in the video “Art and Alzheimer’s with Angel Duncan: Memories in the Making”). Art therapist Angel Duncan describes how art taps into the unconscious and allows memories to emerge. Through this process, the dignity of people with Alzheimer’s is enhanced, their life stories are told and not lost, and families receive precious keepsakes of their loved ones when presented with their artwork. The quality of “now” is emphasized (also a emphasis of Unity belief) as art becomes the universal language of people with Alzheimer’s when words fade.

What happens neurologically which allows art to achieve such success with people with Alzheimer’s Disease? In the video “I Remember Better When I Paint,” Dr. Robert C. Green, Professor of Neurology and Genetics at Boston University, reports that the disease process starts in parts of the brain which lays down new memories (short-term memory). Dr. Sam Gandy, Associate Director of Mt. Sinai’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in New York City, added that the part of the brain involved in creativity, the Parietal lobe, is not involved in the disease process until the late stage of Alzheimer’s. The Parietal lobe is stimulated by art and music. Participation in the creative arts allows people with Alzheimer’s to more actively communicate in a new way and to enhance their quality of life in the “now”. My art teacher, Bill, would not be surprised that “seeing the light” in art is the last thing to deteriorate.

See the full article.

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New York University – Review of I Remember Better When I Paint

By Sandra L. Bertman of the New York University Literature, Arts, and Medicine Database

This groundbreaking international film documents the positive impact of art and other creative activities on people with Alzheimer’s disease. The film’s intention is to change the way we look at the disease. It does just that. Brilliantly.

Throughout the film–at the circus, visiting museums, or in painting workshops conducted at day care centers, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in Europe and the US– the hopeless, fatalistic, nobody’s there stereotypes of Alzheimer’s sufferers is unequivocally denied. We continually witness people with serious memory problems being brought back into active communication and a rich quality of life. This is more than busywork arts and crafts: trained professionals knowledgeable about both art and Alzheimer’s are providing essential treatment “just as effective if not more so than the drugs.” The benefits of the non-pharmacological along with the pharmacological not only extend life, but create a life worthwhile, where people find meaning and connection. “The creative arts are a doorway. Once that doorway is opened … things are tapped … that are genuine and active and alive that don’t get tapped in our normal day social interactions when we sit at a table and make conversations over a meal or we read a newspaper article and then talk about the headlines of the day…. The creative arts bypass the [cognitive] limitations and simply go to the strengths. People still have imagination in tact all the way to the end of their disease.”

See the full article.

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mindRAMP – Writing a New Narrative About Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Loss

By Michael C. Patterson of mindRAMP

On August 3, I am scheduled to give the keynote speech for a Symposium in Miami, Florida presented by the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA). The title of the symposium is Developing Engaging Programs for People with Alzheimer’s & Memory Loss and their Caregivers. The focus on Alzheimer’s and memory loss has required me to put aside my usual focus on healthy mature minds and to consider brain health and cognitive engagement for individuals who are challenged by brain diseases.

I am drawn to the thinking of Dr. Peter Whitehouse and Dr. Gene Cohen. Dr. Whitehouse suggests that we need to write a new narrative about Alzheimer’s disease and learn a new vocabulary to discuss the various changes that can happen to our brains as we age. Word choice has a strong influence on how we think. Whitehouse and Cohen both argue that labeling someone as an Alzheimer’s patient has the unintended consequence of stigmatizing and dehumanizing that person. Further the language we use to describe Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss can lead us down less than helpful paths.

Before sharing a few suggestions on new language and a new narrative, let me share Dr. Whitehouse’s perspective on the challenge. He argues that:

  • • There will be no magic bullet cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
  • • Alzheimer’s is not a single disease; it is an assortment of conditions associated with aging and cognitive decline.
  • • There is no clear diagnosis for Alzheimer’s, not even through autopsy.
  • • Our focus, therefore must be on prevention and adjustment rather than on finding a cure.
  • • Loss of memory does not equate to loss of self.
  • To write a new narrative about Alzheimer’s disease (AD) we need to free ourselves from the constraints of the old story and use new language to write a more realistic and life-affirming story about the challenges associated with cognitive decline and memory loss.

    Old Story

  • Alzheimer’s is a disease
  • AD ravages the brain
  • AD causes a loss of Self
  • We must wage war on AD
  • Search for high-tech solutions
  • New Story

  • Brain aging is variable.
  • AD presents daunting challenges
  • AD causes a change in Self
  • We must adapt to variable outcomes
  • Make use of hi-touch approaches
  • The hi-touch approach is from Dr. Gene Cohen who points out that the search for pharmacological solutions to dementia have been less than successful and tend to focus on the patient rather than the person. Hi-touch solutions, on the other hand, focus on the patient as a person and on restoring quality of life to individuals, families and caregivers. Dr. Cohen urges us to move from a “Two – S” approach to a “Four – S” approach. The standard approach
    revolves around Symptoms and Signs; on medicine and behavioral manifestations of the illness. Dr. Cohen’s two additions target the Strengths and Satisfactions of the individual.

    As Dr. Whitehouse says, “Aging is a project, a work of existential art, a story that one continues to write until one can write it no more – it does not end when one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by a doctor.”

    The organizations participating in the NCCA symposium are at the cutting edge of this work to rewrite our story about Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. The award-winning TimeSlips program is a creative story-telling program that opens storytelling to everyone by replacing the pressure to remember with encouragement to imagine. The Museum of Modern Art Alzheimer’s Project makes art accessible and engaging to people with dementia. The documentary film “I Remember Better When I Paint” chronicles a person with Alzheimer’s who finds meaning and purpose through painting.

    See the full article.

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    Make It Better Magazine – Documentary by a Local Filmmaker Explains How Art Therapy Can Relieve Dementia

    By Pamela Dittmer McKuen of Make It Better Magazine

    Loved ones with severe memory loss often retreat to inner worlds.

    A recent international documentary, “I Remember Better When I Paint,” co-directed by Berna Huebner of Highland Park, shows how art therapy can bring them back.

    The film is based, in part, on personal experience. Huebner’s mother, Hilda Gorenstein, also known as Hilgos, was an accomplished artist who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in the early 1990s. As her condition worsened, she became increasingly withdrawn and forlorn.

    One day Huebner asked her mother if she would like to paint again. Gorenstein’s face brightened. “Yes, I remember better when I paint,” she said.

    Huebner recruited several students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Gorenstein’s alma mater, to spend time with her and encourage her brushstrokes. The artist completed 200 more paintings before she died in 1998.

    “Painting helped my mother reconnect to life,” Huebner says. “It gave her more identity and dignity and helped her regain some of her communication skills.”

    Former Chicagoan and geriatric psychiatrist Lawrence Lazarus, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico and private practitioner in Santa Fe, N.M., explains how it works: “Skills and memories from the past tend to be comparatively preserved, as opposed to new information or recent memories. If someone who has a background in art or music can recreate some of those experiences, they can rekindle the pleasure they may have gotten from similar works in the past. They feel a sense of mastery and control.”

    Huebner has become an advocate of art therapy for people with dementia. She established the Hilgos Foundation, in memory of her mother, to fund SAIC students who design such projects. She worked on the documentary, a 10-year passion, to build awareness and inspire more creative arts programming at care facilities, schools and arts centers worldwide.

    “Berna is pioneering the use of creative arts to unlock communication that has been closed off,” says SAIC Chancellor Tony Jones. “The film is a message of hope.”

    The hour-long film is co-directed by French filmmaker Eric Ellena and narrated by Olivia de Havilland. It features footage of Gorenstein and other patients in North America and Europe engaging in artistic expression, as well as interviews with experts from the medical and arts communities. Among them are Lazarus, Jones and Yasmin Aga Khan, president of Alzheimer’s Disease International and daughter of Rita Hayworth, who had the disease.

    The film has been shown on public television stations and at medical meetings. It also is available for sale.

    “We hope the film becomes an educational tool for giving people who have this disease a better quality of life,” says Huebner.

    Editor’s note: You can buy “I Remember Better When I Paint” through Amazon.com.

    See the full article.

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    New Findings; New Hope for Alzheimer’s Patients and Care-givers

    By Vernon Crumrine of AllVoices:

    According to recent federal statistics, by 2030 some 20% of the U.S. population will be age 65 or older. Some in that age group will age well. Those who will be so fortunate, along with their families will never personally experience the tragedy that is Alzheimer’s. But the sad fact is that millions will. Certainly, many of those who will ultimately fall victim to Alzheimer’s will be claimed by the disease at an age far younger than age 65.

    On this morning’s radio show, Gail Sheehy noted some relatively new findings and research in the field of Alzheimer’s which reveals that brain imaging now indicates that at least two areas of the brain remain largely untouched and unaffected by the onset of Alzheimer’s. Those two areas are the center of emotions and center of creativity. Scientists have of course long known that very different tasks are assigned to the left and right sides of the brain. A partial listing of both indicates that logical, sequential, fact-based functions reside within the confines of the left side of the brain, while the right side is the center for control of our creative, emotional and artistic responses.

    Alzheimer’s patients under these recent studies have responded well to treatment, benefitting both from art therapies and conscious efforts directed at stimulating creative expression. Art therapies, for example, have been shown to improve not only the mood in certain sufferers of the disease; further bringing creativity into play lessened the need for psychotropic medicines. Other additional studies are showing success in music therapy as well. We now know, for instance, that the practice of regularly playing a musical instrument can often delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by as much as five years.

    See the full article.
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