Museums across USA are reaching out to people with Alzheimer's in order to bring the soothing power of art into the minds of those tackling dementia. The Museum of Modern Art in New York recently received a major, two-year grant from the MetLife Foundation to expand its "Meet Me At MoMA" program, which offers small group sessions and workshops for people in the early to mid stages of Alzheimer's. Other museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, offer similar programs.
The museum is also conducting a study, in conjunction with the New York University School of Medicine, to assess the effects of art therapy on those with Alzheimer's disease. The "Meet Me at MoMA" program guides people with Alzheimer's through lively discussions of works by modern masters like Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. MoMA, like other museums, offers weekly or monthly tours for people in the early to middle stages of Alzheimer's disease. Individuals are encouraged to discuss the works and to express whatever thoughts and emotions come to mind. Seeing art and talking about it, like creating art, is thought to release trapped emotions and engage parts of the brain that keep the mind active and the memory intact. In fact, art may prove a vital creative outlet for many with the disease who can no longer read or have trouble speaking or understanding words. Art, like music, seems to touch areas deep in the brain that are vital for well-being and emotional health, regardless of age or mental capacities. That's why both art and music therapy are increasingly being used for people with Alzheimer's disease.
As a researcher interested in new natural treatments for persons with Alzheimer's Disease, I would like to take this news item to highlight the innovative project of Dr. Heidi Hamilton on “Talk in Response to Paintings: A Pilot Study of the Intersection of Art, Dementia, and Discourse" (in collaboration with Dr. John Zeisel, President, of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care Ltd., Massachusetts, founder of the “Artists for Alzheimer’s” program, and Dr. Mike Bird, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Greater Southern Area Health Service, Queanbeyan, New South Wales), August 2007-present. This study focuses on linguistic analysis in order to provide powerful evidence of the cognitive and social effects of such programs on participants. According to Dr. Hamilton, the findings of this study will illuminate contextual features of the complex relationship between language and Alzheimer’s disease while simultaneously providing an important step toward improving the everyday lives of people living with this disease.
Picture: By Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY