There will be many of us, as we age, that will have no say in what happens to our memory or cognitive function. Names, faces, and even remembering to follow through on simple tasks could slowly fade away.
Although scientists are racing against the clock to better understand Alzheimer’s (and other forms of dementia) to find a definitive cure, it hasn’t happened yet. An effective Alzheimer’s treatment continues to elude even the smartest and most skilled doctors.
However, not all news is discouraging on the dementia front. While most of us hope we can avoid the condition, if it does begin to manifest itself, here’s some positive news about how a little creativity can protect certain functions in the brain.
Researchers in Toronto have discovered that Alzheimer’s patients who had engaged in creative activities like painting and music were able to retain those skills even when dealing with a full-blown case of the brain-damaging disease.
In effect, their art helped to better protect the brain by creating reserves that could be tapped-into, even after their memories seemed virtually wiped out. The research team explains that art—in any form—uses different communication pathways in the brain than those used to perform everyday tasks. Alzheimer patients seem able to access these specialized neural networks even if they can’t access other parts of their brain anymore.
The researchers offered a stark example of the power of art to preserve at least some function in the brain. A well-known artist was able to draw detailed pictures of faces and figures from memory despite having severe vascular dementia. What’s more, the artist was able to converse with hospital staff articulately about her drawings and the artistic process.
Examples of artistic skills being preserved even when dementia has set-in are appearing in health journals with increasing frequency. People are sharing their stories of a mother who has Alzheimer’s but who can still play the piano and sing songs from memory, or a father who can learn new music even though he’s unable to re-learn family members’ names.
One fascinating Japanese study tells the story of three artists with Alzheimer’s: William Utermohlen, Carolus Horn, and Willem de Kooning. Utermohlen was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 61. He continued to paint and produced a series of self-portraits that reflected complex emotions even as he was losing his memory. Horn was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 58. He continued to paint although the quality of his work was not what it had been. Nevertheless, he was still drawing daily right up until the time of his death. As for de Kooning, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in his late eighties, after which he produced more than 300 abstract paintings. These paintings have been acclaimed by art critics and are considered some of de Kooning’s most sensitive and artistically refined paintings.
This is a clear signal for all seniors to add a little art to their lives. There are all sorts of creative activities you can become involved in. Develop a passion for something and stick with it. Art could be better than any medication that’s been discovered thus far when it comes to protecting a part of your brain from dementia.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
“Artists ‘better protected’ against dementia, study finds,” CBC News web site, Aug. 22, 2013; http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2013/08/22/art-dementia.html, last accessed Aug. 29, 2013.
Fornazzari, L., et al., “Preserved drawing in a sculptor with dementia,” Can J Neurol Sci. Sept 2013; 40(5): 736-7.
Marcus, E.L., et al., “Creative work of painters with Alzheimer’s disease,” Harefuah. Aug 2009; 148(8): 548-53, 570.