Painting a Better Picture for Alzheimer's

June 22, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
More than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer's disease. It's a devastating illness that can rob people of a lot more than their memory. But finding a creative, engaging outlet may not only keep Alzheimer's patients actively using their brains, it may even improve their symptoms.Psychologist Denise Sparks says art is a unique way to engage patients with Alzheimer's disease.

"It offers them an opportunity for self expression and creativity," says Denise Sparks, Ph.D., a psychologist at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla. "They are very much cognitively engaged in what they are doing, the thinking about what they are doing."

Art teacher Pat Saidon has also seen the benefits.

"I tell them OK, now you have to highlight. You have to color. You have to work this part. You have to change the color -- that's brain, brain, brain, brain exercise," Saidon says.

Studies show art eases the anxiety, confusion and frustration common in Alzheimer's. It strengthens analytical and logical brain function. One study shows half of patients in an art program had a significant improvement in symptoms.

Patient Myles Feldman has been painting for a year.

"It exercises my brain on something that I never did before," Feldman says.

Gloria Chalfon was diagnosed with Alzheimer's four years ago. Her disease is progressing, but in art class, she thrives.

"It has to exercise your brain because you have to have ideas to put down on paper," Chalfon says.

Fernando Moleon says it's been great to see his mother get excited about something again.

"She's like a little schoolgirl getting up in the morning and jumping in the shower and 'Let's go!'" Moleon says.

The work created here is impressive, but it's also therapeutic.

"This is absolutely better than any single pill and it comes in a bottle. It's only color," Saidon says.

Studies show art can also slow down the heart rate and lower blood pressure. To find out if there's an art program for Alzheimer's patients near you, Dr. Sparks says to contact the local Alzheimer's association.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
The Alzheimer's Association
www.alz.org
info@alz.org


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