Most of us have witnessed the memory loss that often comes with aging. One person in five will suffer from Dementia. Dementia is a general term often used to describe more severe forms of memory loss and other defects in thinking skills. Alzheimer's disease is a severe form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer's Association, a person suffering from dementia must have trouble with at least two of the following: memory, language, attention, reasoning and visual perception.
Recent studies and observations have demonstrated that art experiences can override the stresses of memory loss and elevate a person's mood, even though they may be suffering from or Alzheimer's disease. This actually re-energizes and restores a sense of personal identity.
A group centered in London named Arts4dementia (Arts4dementia.org) believes that families living with dementia have the right to enjoy life to the full. They have demonstrated that people's artistic and imaginative responses can remain strong for years after the onset of dementia. In their report Reawakening the Mind, Arts4dementia details the results of 17 weekly art projects lasting three to ten weeks each during 2012 and 2013 in the City of London.
The 17 projects included art, music, dance, theatre, poetry, photography and media. The participants included 128 people with dementia and 81 caregivers. The outcomes were enlightening. All of the persons with early stage dementia reported feeling less isolated and developed new groups of friends. Ninety-nine percent felt more fulfilled and could see that continuing arts activity will enrich their lives.
On the caregiver side, the results were equally compelling. They found the arts activities to offer a constructive way for them to engage in a more meaningful relationship with their loved ones. Two professional caregivers found themselves more closely connected to their clients, with one client teaching his caregiver to paint.
On this side of the pond, a recent two part documentary on PBS, Arts & the Mind, aired on local channels KUED and KBYU. This program explores the role that arts play in human development during both youth and older age. Throughout the documentary, experts from USC, UCLA, Johns Hopkins and other institutions provide the scientific background of the workings of the brain during artistic activity, including brain imaging, to show actual improvement in brain activity. The video is available at http://video.pbs.org/video/2278294471.
Another organization that is focused on the beneficial relationship between the arts and the aging mind is the National Center for Creative Aging (http://www.creativeaging.org). The evidence is overwhelming. The aging mind, even suffering from severe stages of dementia and Alzheimer's, can be vastly improved and hope and joy restored, through the introduction of creative activity and exposure to various forms of artistic expression.
If you are caring for an aging loved one, explore what art might do to make both your lives easier, and most likely, richer and more fulfilling.