Bringing Art To Life

 

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An “Art to Life” student helps someone with Alzheimer’s disease and visual impairment.

Bringing Art to Life is an innovative program developed in collaboration with the University of Alabama Honors College which brings art therapy and life story preservation to community-dwelling persons with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers.  The initiative was piloted in impoverished Perry County, Alabama, in partnership with VSA Arts of Alabama and Sowing Seeds of Hope Foundation, and is currently a recurring  Honors College service learning course titled “Art to Life.”  It has been offered in parallel with a Telecommunications and Film Department course titled “Documenting Art to Life,” and both full-length and short documentaries have been produced.  Outcomes-based research regarding the intervention’s impact on neuropsychiatric measures in the participants, caregiver burden and participant quality of life has been carried out, and results will be submitted for publication in 2014.

Each semester approximately five participants with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who have been evaluated and screened by a dementia neurologist and who are still living in community-based settings are selected for participation, and are paired with approximately three Honors students with diverse majors.  Before the start of the art therapy intervention the students are given weekly instruction on Alzheimer’s disease, person-centered care techniques, art and other expressive arts therapies, and are taught the importance of honoring and preserving life story.  Students also experience the Virtual Dementia Tour and spend time in a dementia daycare center called Caring Days.

Eight weeks of group art therapy then takes place for the participants, and the students also participate.  During the therapy sessions, life story elements are captured by the students for later use in crafting a life memoir.  Most importantly, students develop empathy for those with dementia, and for their caregivers through entering into relationship with them, and through journaling about their experiences for the writing component of the course.  All of this, including the research element, is carried out only after obtaining appropriate consents, with consent from both the participant and caregiver when advisable, and strict attention to rigorous ethics.  In separate lab time, the students visit the participants in their dwellings, scan old photographs or documents, record audio of favorite music, interview family members and friends, and obtain any other elements deemed important for life story preservation.

For the first time in 2014, we have partnered with LifeBio to capture life story elements, making use of their applications and secure online technologies to produce leatherbound memoirs to be given to the participants and families (along with any artistic works produced) in a dinner banquet at the end of the course.  Particular care is maintained in crafting the memoirs to validate each participant in his/her current state, and not just reminisce about the past.

It is our goal to offer Bringing Art to Life to other institutions in other regions, and to collaborate with these institutions in research on the intervention.  A manual and toolkit for implementing the program have been developed.

For more information on the program, please contact us here, or at info@cognitivedynamics.org.

Watch this brief promotional video about the program:

Bringing Art to Life Promo