“Creativity takes courage.” - Henri Matisse.
Most of us take for granted the importance of the arts as part of a well-rounded education. In addition to fostering creativity and imagination, educators also believe that the arts stimulate cognitive development. They are (or should be) fun and entertaining as well. Perhaps most important, the arts are an avenue of self-expression. Feelings and emotions are expressed in ways that often cannot be communicated otherwise.
As with other things, some of that natural creativity, expression, and spontaneity seems to get lost as we get older. We learn the rules, guidelines, and structures that seem to come with growing up. Life gets serious. Sometimes out of necessity, we learn to stay within the lines - and also learn the consequences of not doing so.
Whether we use our imaginations or not, our ability to do so does not seem to diminish with age. This includes individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias. Speaking in the documentary I Remember Better When I Paint, Robert C. Green, Professor of Neurology & Genetics at Boston University, noted that “Alzheimer’s disease doesn’t affect the entire brain all at once.” The parts of the brain important for “laying down new memory” are impacted first. That is why your loved one may not remember what they had for breakfast, or even that they had breakfast, but will remember family or job details from decades ago.
Imagination, on the other hand, seems to remain largely intact. Dr. Sam Gandy, Associate Director at Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, noted in the same documentary that the Parietal Lobe is “involved in Alzheimer’s but rather late.” That is the part of the brain that is stimulated through creative activities such as art and music. Therefore, even after people with dementia may have largely lost the ability to communicate, they are often able to share thoughts and emotions, and even memories, through art.
Locally, Memories in the Making provides people with Alzheimer’s with an opportunity to express themselves artistically, in this case through painting with watercolors. According to Bill Horrell, Development and Communications Specialist with the Greater Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Memories in the Making was started by a chapter in Southern California in 1988 and brought to the Quad Cities seven years ago. He said last year 15 senior living communities in the area took part in the program.
The watercolor activity is stimulating and enriching for the residents and sometimes brings out a latent art talent. Significantly, something of the individual emerges through the artwork. In one case, for example, a resident painted a picture of a farmstead where she had grown up. Other benefits for those with Alzheimer’s participating include improved self-esteem, increased attention span and focus, increased socialization, and an opportunity to reconnect with families.
This year’s Memories in the Making will begin at 5:30pm on Friday, May 19th at the Quad City Botanical Center. The cost is $30 and includes admission, hors d’oeuvres, wine tasting, and live entertainment. There will also be a cash bar, and the live art auction begins at 7:00pm. (Yes, it really is a good time!)
Selected artwork is framed for the auction, and if it is safe for them to leave their community, the artists themselves are invited (as are their families). This year, a committee of volunteers is organizing the local event as opposed to the Alzheimer’s Association, but all proceeds are being donated to the Greater Iowa Chapter. Admission tickets can be purchased at the door the evening of the event. However, to pre-register or for more information e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The Facebook page is facebook.com/memoriesinthemakingqc.