ARTZ: Artists for Alzheimer’s

by Jan Simpson

Recently I attended a forum in Boston where I met Dr. John Zeisel and Sean Caulfield, co-founders of ARTZ, an organization that hosts community events for people living with memory loss and their caregivers. Drawing on the support of artists and cultural institutions such as the Louvre in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the National Gallery of Australia, the Big Apple Circus and the Tribeca Film Institute, ARTZ has enable thousands of people living with Alzheimer’s and related dementias to have access to arts and culture.

Standing before an art exhibit, John spoke passionately about how art experiences can significantly enhance the lives of those living with dementia. The evidence surrounded him as the room was filled with paintings and photography created by people living with Alzheimer’s disease. I could feel the joy they all must have felt as they created their paintings, many perhaps beyond the point where they could express themselves with words. While some paintings were detailed and colorful, my eyes were drawn to one that appeared rather simplistic, a Star of David and a rectangle with colored bars. “That person,” John said, “could no longer speak but he was telling us, ‘I’m still here.'”  When his family saw the painting, they began to cry. Their father was a Holocaust survivor and his drawing captured his memory of that experience. “Alzheimer’s doesn’t take away memory, your memories are all in there. It’s as if you put the memories in the glove compartment and you lost the key; the art unlocks it,” said John.

ARTZ does more than encourage artistic expression.  By creating interactive, educational programs in partnership with museums and theaters, it allows elders to enjoy an outing that is stimulating and therapeutic. Art experiences have been shown to significantly reduce psycho-behavioral symptoms often associated with dementia, such as anxiety, aggression and agitation, and to optimize remaining capacities.

On December 15th, I’ll be volunteering in Boston at “Meet Me at the Coolidge…and Make Memories” an interactive film program for people with memory loss and their partners. The film event was designed specifically to encourage audience discussion and reminiscence. The program will show short clips from classic films from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. Tickets are free. If you have a loved one living with dementia, consider bringing them to the program.  Click here to learn more about ARTZ and all of the programs it sponsors.  If someone you love is experiencing memory loss, consider adding art to his or her activities.

Do you have stories to share about the arts and your older loved ones?

©Circle of Life Partners™

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