The Arts and Alzheimer's

ArtsAlzheimers.fw.pngThough there are many published studies about Alzheimer’s disease, some of them very promising, none of them definitively answer the important questions about the causes and cures of Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

What we do know is that the quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s can be affected dramatically by having their daily routine include more activities and stimulation. Even if a person with Alzheimer’s seems non-responsive, he or she should not be left alone to sit in a room all day. They can be read to, listen to music, engage in creative arts, exercise and dance. Our staff frequently hear from family caregivers who encourage their loved ones to attend CJE’s Adult Day Services—a safe and secure environment that fosters socialization and therapeutic art activities—and within weeks, they are delighted to report that their loved ones have become more engaged. There is a growing body of research confirming anecdotal evidence that participation in the arts can improve quality of life, reduce stress and allow the person with Alzheimer’s to better connect to the world. Emily Mysel, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., Manager of The Friend Center for Memory Care, confirms these findings: “Involvement in creative arts can create an emotional connection to the world and provide a sense of belonging for persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.”

The use of art to engage and connect with people with dementia was the main topic of a 2012 Conference in Boston entitled “Artz and Dementia” (Boston Globe, 2012). Presenters stressed that someone might have lost many memories, but an essential piece of them still remained. They also pointed out how, with Alzheimer’s, recent memories and thinking abilities decline, but long-term memories are still there, as well as emotions.

Professionals at the conference also spoke of how music can boost recall of personal memories. One director of an Alzheimer’s facility discussed how he played calming recordings for his residents at dinnertime, and this reduced the common problem of getting agitated at that time of the day, referred to as “sundowning.” According to another report: “The part of the brain that recognizes music is usually the last part of the brain that, in layman’s terms, shuts down. So it allows the individual who has Alzheimer’s to revisit a really good time of their life. This offers patients less agitation, recollection and a boost in appetite.” (CBS News, Los Angeles)

Robert Stern, Professor of Neurology at Boston University, states, “Whether it be fine arts, music … museums. All those things do not have an impact on the disease per se. What they do most likely is get through to the person with Alzheimer’s by exploiting the areas of the brain that are least impaired.”

Amy Eisenstein, Ph.D., Director of Research at CJE’s Leonard Schanfield Research Institute says, “There isn’t a confirmed pathological explanation for why the arts slow, or delay, or hide cognitive decline, but it seems to help those with memory loss retrieve long-term memory more easily. It also uses ethics of person-centered care, which helps improve quality of life—dignity and engagement.”