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 (BATL) is an innovative program developed in collaboration with the University of Alabama which brings art therapy and life story preservation to persons living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias (PWD). Piloted in Perry County, Alabama, the initiative is offered as a service learning course in the Department of Psychology. 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. In 2016, in collaboration with Chicago Methodist Senior Services (CMSS) and Northside College Prep School, and supported by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, Bringing Art to Life Chicago (BATL-C) was piloted. In its current iteration, BATL-C is offered to Loyola University students, facilitated by faculty lead and highly-regarded Rush University cognitive neurologist, Neelum T. Aggarwal, MD. A new partnership has been created with the Yale University Art Gallery, with docent-led gallery tours followed by art therapy directives facilitated by Cognitive Dynamics Executive Arts Director, Angel C. Duncan, MA, MFT-ATR. In 2019, BATL-Birmingham was begun in collaboration with McCoy Adult Daycare and Birmingham-Southern College Department of Psychology.

Research conducted by Geropsychologists at the Alabama Research Institute on Aging has shown that students in BATL exhibit improved attitudes towards PWD and toward community service, as well as greater increases in empathy than controls. PWD in the program enjoy being with the students, creating art and sharing stories, feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, and exhibit improved communication skills, and care partners report a lower burden of care, with uplifts. 

Each semester 5 to 8 participants living with dementia who are living in community-based settings are selected for participation, and are paired with 2 to 3 students apiece. Before the start of the art therapy students are given weekly instruction on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, person-centered care techniques, art and other expressive arts therapies, care giving and mindfulness, and are taught the importance of honoring and preserving life story. Particular emphasis is placed on honoring and validating personhood and building supportive relationships. Students experience dementia simulation by participating in the Virtual Dementia Tour and through the virtual reality dementia modules offered by Embodied Labs and spend time in a dementia daycare center (Caring Days).

Eight weeks of group art therapy then takes place for participants and students. Music is offered concurrently, either with musicians in attendance or with recorded age-appropriate playlists. During these 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 care partners through entering into relationships with them, and through journaling about their experiences for the writing component of the course. Consents are obtained from both participants and care partners when advisable, with 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.

Since 2014, BATL-T has partnered with LifeBio to capture life story elements, making use of their applications and secure online technologies to produce leather-bound 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

Watch these brief promotional videos about the program:

Bringing Art to Life

Art produced by persons living with dementia and their student partners in Bringing Art to Life

Students, faculty, facilitators and staff of Bringing Art to Life – Chicago from Cognitive Dynamics

A new book of reflections and poetry highlights our experiences in Bringing Art to Life, and can be found at this link: