“Rescuing Memories” – Art to Life Highlighted in Alabama Alumni Magazine, Fall 2011

Alabama Alumni Magazine, Fall, 2011

Rescuing Memories













Dr. Daniel C. Potts is proof that great things can come out of unfortunate situations. In 2001, Potts, a neurologist at Alabama Neurology and Sleep Medicine  and associate clinical professor at the UA School of Medicine’s Tuscaloosa campus, part of the College of Community Health Sciences, was dealt a blow when his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. While sick, his father had spent time at Caring Days, a senior day care center in Tuscaloosa, where he was introduced to art therapy, and quickly began showing signs of improvement. “The therapy completely turned him around,” Potts said, adding his father painted more than 100 watercolor pieces. “The therapy gave him back his dignity and pride and reaffirmed him as a human being.” Inspired by his father’s artwork, Potts began to write poetry, and self-published a book compiling his poems with the paintings, titled The Broken Jar. He donated it to Caring Days in 2006, just a year before his father passed away. “He was going down a rapid course when we started the art therapy, and he stabilized for about a year and a half because of the program,” Potts said. Drawn to help others, in 2010 Potts formed Cognitive Dynamics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using art to improve the lives of patients with cognitive disorders. He called on Dr. Jacqueline Morgan, associate dean of the UA Honors College, to help get the program off the ground. After a few planning meetings, they decided to offer a class on the topic, titling it “Art to Life.” The course would include lessons on art therapy and Alzheimer’s disease. Potts would select three Alzheimer’s patients in Marion, Ala., to participate in the program, and students and an art therapist would visit their homes. During sessions, they would learn art from the therapist and communicate with students about their life memories, with recollections surfacing through the art projects. Morgan connected Potts with Meg McCrummen, an Honors College senior and University Fellow with a passion for Alzheimer’sdisease treatment and art, and soon the curriculum was set. Student and neurologist would teach “Art to Life.” In early 2011, 12 students filed into Nott Hall for the inaugural class, and three patients would also participate. The first few weeks included student training. Each student was then tasked with creating a patient life story project through interviews and observations of art therapy sessions. “The art therapy sessions took place in the patient’s home and it ended up being a fantastic experience for both the students and patients,” McCrummen said. “At the end of the semester, we gave each family a DVD or memory book of the patient’s life memories and framed one of their paintings. It was a big celebration and a time to honor the patients, which was the whole idea behind the program.” Jon Beans’ 83-year-old mother, Bobby, was a patient participant. “It went really well,” he said. “She shared a lot of her life story with them and loved painting. At one point, she painted a tree that represented my late father. She painted it tall and straight, just like my dad, who was well over 6 feet. The fruit on the tree was representative of her grandkids.” The experience sharpened Bobby’s cognitive ability, said Beans, adding, “Now she seems more engaged in what is going on.” Potts is continuing the class in the fall semester at UA, this time with six patients. Other universities have expressed their interest in establishing similar art therapy programs as well, and Potts and McCrummen are working on a manual to help them get started. “East Tennessee State University is interested,” Potts said. “We are really excited about future editions of this. We want to do research on the benefits of the program.”

Katie Morell is a Chicago-based freelance writer.