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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Caregiving and Learning About Alzheimer's, Art, and Memory

Studies show there is a connection between art and memory for people with Alzheimer's. Caregivers may have noticed that when people with Alzheimer's color or paint pictures they sometimes respond to the images by remembering things. I don't know if it was just chance, but many people whom I have assisted who had Alzheimer's have been enthusiastic about making or coloring pictures. In fact, they were more enthusiastic than the other elderly seniors about it. Their walls were decorated with pictures they had colored with paints, crayons, colored pencils or markers.

I noticed recently that has adult coloring books, even one full of paintings by the artist John Constable, ready for someone to color. This could be another source for art projects for people with Alzheimer's.

Many studies say that memories are stored as images. In an article at ABC News, John Ziesal, director of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, explained why Alzheimer's patients respond to looking at images and art. "It's as if you...put the memories in the glove compartment and you lost the key...and the art unlocked it."

As a caregiver, have you ever noticed how visuals help people with Alzheimer's to start remembering? For instance, photos in an album can trigger reminiscing. Some seniors with Alzheimer's like to color pictures with paints, markers or pencils, and the pictures often seem to help get a conversation started and to trigger memories.

In the article at, 2006, titled "Art Awakens Alzheimer's Patient's Minds" a visit to an art museum and its effects are discussed.

The article explains that Alzheimer's patients may develop four "A's" of anxiety, aggression, agitation and apathy. Nurses and families of Alzheimer's patients say that after a visit to an art museum the four "A's" fade and people are calmer.

Sometimes I've gotten out the art supplies, pictures to color, and colored markers or crayons at the time when sundowner's often seems to start with people whom I've assisted. Coloring the pictures and talking about them seemed to calm people and soothe agitation. They seemed to be less apt to start wandering and more apt to sit and make pictures. Adding some healthy snacks helped too.

Using a coloring book with subjects that the person might relate to due to past interest seemed to help. For instance, themes of animals for someone who likes pets.

When caregiving for someone with Alzheimer's some people like to share a magazine full of pictures, a history book with a lot of photos, or an art book. This can be a pleasant activity for caregivers and senior's with Alzheimer's and a way to bring back memories.

Scientists say perhaps the memories are not actually forgotten but the access to the memory is not working. When seeing the art at a museum the images bring back memories.

A family photo album or scrapbook can be a source of images to help memory. Sometimes when someone is agitated a caregiver can get out a photo album for a calming activity.

Short term memory loss occurs in Alzheimer's but images seem to help memory retrieval. Caregivers can use images and artwork to aid memory for people with Alzheimer's.

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