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 in its third semester as an Honors College course titled “Art to Life.”  It is offered in parallel with a Telecommunications and Film Department course titled “Documenting Art to Life,” and both full-length and short documentaries featuring the course experience are currently in development.  Outcomes-based research regarding the intervention’s impact on neuropsychiatric measures in the participants (using the Neuropsychiatric Inventory-NPI) and caregiver burden and participant quality of life (using a screening tool developed in the course) is currently being carried out.

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.  A student from the Telecommunication and Film Department is also paired with each participant, and documents the entire experience.  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 digital life story preservation.  Students also attend a dementia daycare center and experience the Virtual Dementia Tour.  Six weeks of group art therapy then takes place for the participants, and the students also participate.  During the therapy sessions, critical life story elements are captured by the students for later use in crafting the digital life story.  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.  With the help of the Telecommunication and Film Department, a digital life story is then created and preserved for each participant, 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 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 are under development at this time.