But will they remember? It’s fair to question the importance of cultural experiences for a population that may or may not remember it soon thereafter. But there is strong evidence of how engaging with arts stimulates the brain and serves a person in vital ways.
Certainly it’s not just a visual experience – it’s an emotional one…I have often seen quite demented patients recognize and respond vividly to paintings and delight in painting at a time when they are scarcely responsive to words and disoriented. I think that recognition of visual art can be very deep.
– Dr. Oliver Sacks, writer and professor of neurology at NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY
Viewing art is a treatment for Alzheimer’s because it employs and wakes up the parts of the brain that are still functioning, while putting no pressure on the parts of the brains that are not functioning. While [program participants are] engaged in the experience, they feel respected as people. They have dignity. They get their personhood back.
– John Zeisel, Founder of Artists for Alzheimer’s
As an occupational therapist at an adult day health center, I have found these tours to be an essential offering in our comprehensive creative arts program for persons with dementia. Living with dementia presents many challenges and losses for adults, and arts engagement combats this. When all the senses are engaged, it unlocks language blocks and long-term memory access, and encourages imagination and storytelling. Viewing art in person and participating in a guided discussion provides adults with vital intellectual stimulation. These shared experiences boost social interaction and solidify friendships. Participating in a group out in the community is a normalizing experience and enhances self-identity and self-esteem. The population of adults with memory loss is rapidly growing and communities need to prepare to serve these citizens. The model Jane Tygesson created at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is easily replicated by any size and type of museum. I am hopeful that all museums one day will welcome a wide range of visitor abilities through specialized group programs like these.
– Susan. M. Ryan, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist at Wilder Adult Day Health, Minneapolis, MN
These wonderful tours connect our residents to the outside world, bring them socialization opportunities, keep their mind and body active, and bring them joy by allowing them to have a very sensory and tactile experience. Jane Tygesson has trained docents very well in what types of art to share with participants and how to include props that evoke memory via touch and smells. We have heard time and time again that docents enjoy these tours as much as our residents. It is a win-win for all involved. These museum outings have become our favorite outing; every resident can enjoy the beauty surrounding them, whether they can express it or not.
– Carol Abbott Kuhlman, Assistant Director of Rakhma Homes (the first residential model for memory care in Minnesota)