Art & Alzheimer’s: Making Memories
by Suzanne Faith
Two Figures/Black and Red,
by Selina Trieff Published courtesy of CCMOA
The ability to remember words and communicate fluidly with language is one of the first losses experienced with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Families and professionals working with individuals diagnosed with dementia rely heavily on nonverbal exchanges and symbolic interpretations in order to express thoughts or interpret needs.
For many of us, nonverbal expression is often a component of our verbalization. We use our hands to signal, direct, and call attention to something. Learning symbolic interpretation, that is the emotion or idea behind
what one is trying to express, is far more difficult.
Neuroscientists have long understood that although functional abilities are lost as the disease of Alzheimer’s progresses, much of one’s ability to comprehend visual art and music on a deep emotional level remains intact even if it may not be apparent to the casual observer.
In 2003, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City collaborated with John Zeisel, Ph.D., president of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, to develop a groundbreaking program for individuals with dementia. “Meet Me at MoMA…and make Memories” used the paintings in the museum’s collection to assist individuals with Alzheimer’s in the communication process.
Floral Still Life, by Ada Rayner Published courtesy of CCMOA
With the assistance of a museum educator, participating individuals are given the freedom to express their emotions using observation and symbolic interpretation. No judgment is placed on any of their comments. Caregivers accompanying their family members learn new methods of communicating by observing how emotions can be expressed through the use of symbolism.
As art experiences become recognized as a non-pharmacological treatment approach to significantly reduce certain psycho-behavioral symptoms often associated with dementia and assist in the maintenance of cognitive functioning, more and more museums both nationally and internationally are looking expand their programming.
In November 2008, Amir Parsa from MoMA spoke to almost 200 professional and family caregivers at the annual Alzheimer’s Services of Cape Cod & the Islands Awareness Conference about their specialized art program. He conducted a workshop at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis to expose local artists, museum educators, and gallery owners to the MoMA program, and to lay the groundwork for a similar program here on Cape Cod.
Rockland Trust and seven of the Cape’s local cultural councils have generously granted funding to Alzheimer’s Services to expand the art programming for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers through out our local region. Alzheimer’s Services has collaborated with CCMA and several Cape Cod galleries to establish The Arts &Alzheimer’s Project. The project seeks to create a venue for Alzheimer’s programming, and also gives local artists an opportunity to talk about their work.
Return to the Creative Women page