TAP­PING THE CRE­ATIVE BRAIN

Par­tic­i­pat­ing in the arts can help peo­ple with Alzheimer’s and re­lated dis­eases for­get what’s lost and en­rich what’s left.

Los Angeles Times - - STAY HEALTHY - By Paula Spencer Scott

This sum­mer, a choir of non­pro­fes­sional singers with de­men­tia per­formed its 23rd con­cert at Saint Pe­ter’s Church in New York City. Founded in 2011, the Un­for­get­ta­bles learn new songs for each per­for­mance—even though many can’t re­mem­ber what they ate for break­fast.

Cre­ative pur­suits like singing and other ex­pres­sive arts—in­clud­ing dance, im­prov, play­ing mu­sic and pup­petry—are bring­ing new life to peo­ple with Alzheimer’s and re­lated dis­eases, even those who were never “artsy” be­fore.

“It’s the cul­tural cure,” says Anne Bast­ing, a geron­tol­o­gist and theater arts pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin who won a MacArthur fel­low­ship “ge­nius” grant last year for her work in this area, in­clud­ing the imag­i­na­tion-based sto­ry­telling method called TimeSlips (timeslips.org). The arts bring peo­ple out of iso­la­tion, give them a sense of con­nec­tion and im­prove their com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “Peo­ple with de­men­tia are liv­ing in a world of me­taphor and we just need to move into it,” Bast­ing says.

Here are some other arts ef­forts. In Durham, N.C., the Nasher

Mu­seum of Art hosted a three­day con­fer­ence for mu­seum pro­fes­sion­als on art pro­grams for peo­ple with de­men­tia. “It’s joy­ful, not stress­ful,” says par­tic­i­pant Debby Green­wood. “You can see so many things in art—and there are no wrong an­swers.” More than 100 mu­se­ums now of­fer such pro­grams.

In Wis­con­sin, the state’s new poet lau­re­ate, Karla Hus­ton (be­low), is on a mis­sion to bring po­etry—hear­ing it, recit­ing it, writ­ing it—to Mem­ory Cafés (a kind of so­cial sup­port group for peo­ple with de­men­tia).

A Chicago act­ing class teaches im­pro­vi­sa­tion tech­niques to those with mem­ory loss. “Im­prov re­quires you to be in the mo­ment,” says

Mem­ory En­sem­ble co-founder Chris­tine Dun­ford of Look­ing­glass Theatre Com­pany. One tech­nique called “yes, and” en­cour­ages you to ac­cept what­ever your part­ner says as a way to smooth over frus­trat­ing sit­u­a­tions, e.g., “Yes, I put my keys in the fridge, and now they’re cold!”

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