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Art in the Mind's Eye

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Local Alzheimer's patients engage memory, vision at the Hood

In Paul Sample's 1939 painting, Beaver Meadow, a carriage passes through a rural, northern New England landscape. According to Harriet Baldwin, a resident at the Kendal-at-Hanover retirement community, it is a favorite among the residents in Kendal's unit for persons with cognitive impairments, for whom she serves as a volunteer coordinator. "They've talked volubly about it because some of them know where it is, and it's a clear painting, full of objects they can identify."

 

meadow
Beaver Meadow, by Paul Sample, Class of 1920, depicts a scene in Norwich, Vt. The familiar landscape in the painting can help Alzheimer's patients visiting the Hood connect to memories (Photo courtesy Hood Museum of Art).

Since 2006, Kendal and the Hood Museum of Art have collaborated on a program that brings residents who have Alzheimer's disease to the museum to engage with art.

"Just as we must exercise to keep a healthy body, we must exercise our brain to maintain its vitality. This is even more important as we age," explains Laura A. Flashman, associate professor of psychiatry (DMS) and director of the Neuropsychology Program at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. "By staying cognitively active and embracing new challenges, the brain maintains its vitality and continues to work as efficiently as possible." Activities that stimulate the brain, says Flashman, can help slow the dementing progress of diseases such as Alzheimer's.

The Kendal groups tend to visit during quieter hours and focus on a limited number of pieces. "We try to help all visitors to the museum feel comfortable and gain confidence in looking at art," says Amy Driscoll, assistant curator of education at the Hood. "But with the Kendal group we have just four visitors at a time, each with a companion, so that we can give them the assistance they need and really help them focus."

Caregivers have found that the excursions improve quality of life by elevating residents' moods, increasing attention spans, and helping to spark memories.

"It's not just the artwork; it's the socialization with the staff and volunteers and the excitement of going on a trip," says Gretchen Cole, a Kendal administrator. "We've had laughs over nudity in one painting, and serious discussions about portraits and landscapes. The experience can bring back childhood memories or simply bring about a smile."

By ELIZABETH KELSEY

 


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Last Updated: 12/17/08