Alzheimer's DementiaAnxiety (Panic)/DepressionElderly

The value of art therapy in Alzheimer’s disease

I go to the nursing home to visit my mother who is 90 and has Alzheimer’s disease. I walk into the lounge where the patients sit. Titanic is playing on the TV. Nobody looks interested. Most are sleeping — or maybe they’re sedated.

That night, as I’m reading, voil?, the value of art therapy in patients with Alzheimer’s disease becomes clear.

The loss of short-term memory prevents Alzheimer’s patients from enjoying a movie. Why, because you need to remember the beginning to understand the end.

But a painting is different. It’s always all there — all at once. And it has a proven ability to touch people deeply.

The four A’s of Alzheimer’s (anxiety, aggression, agitation, and apathy) often fade in the presence of art. Patients calm down, and their “emotional memory” comes alive. Nurses and family members report less anxiety and apathy.

There have never been any formal studies to show that art therapy slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. But that’s not the point.

What’s the point?

Dr. Gene Cohen from the George Washington University Medical Center says that while the memory is failing, the capacity for imagination doesn’t fade the same way. Activities like art that stimulate the imagination can release emotional memories, because those memories often are stored visually.

“Art therapy is a nonverbal pathway where a patient can access feelings or experiences” Dr. Cohen says.

8/4/06 23:14 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.