Often number of times, we associate Alzheimer’s with just the element of senility. And even with old age, it is just considered as a natural process or as a part of growing old.
It is not.
Alzheimer’s causes problems with memory, thinking and behaviour. But it is much more than that. In the early stage, dementia symptoms may be minimal, but as the disease causes more damage to the brain and the symptoms worsen over a time period, it becomes too late to control the disease in its later stages.
The first stage, sparse signs of forgetfulness as well in thinking and planning start to show. Generally, this is NOT the phase where people get diagnosed.
In the second stage, individuals may experience changes in personality and behaviour and now have trouble recognizing friends and family members. They also have an acute problem in understanding speech and even speaking and one is more prone to get lost on a street. This the phase where people where are diagnosed.
In the third stage, individuals lose the ability to communicate completely. They are unable to discern or identify the objects around them as well as loved ones and family members.
Art as a Medium of Communication:
The epidemic that is Alzheimer’s continues to increase and span across the globe. It is estimated that by the year 2020, approximately 70% of the world’s population aged 60 and above will be living in developing countries, with 14.2% in India.
What we as individuals can do is understand that Alzheimer’s, though incurable as of now, can happen to anyone irrespective of their age, and can be managed through a proper understanding of the disease by the loved ones of the diagnosed. For communication process when the diagnosed person loses the ability to communicate, mediums of art can be used for the patients to communicate. The American artist, William Utermohlen started drawing self-portraits when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Prodded by his nurse, she wanted him to communicate through art and as his disease deteriorated, one can see how what he was trying to communicate.
In the later stages, he felt that he was trapped in a black box. Judy Holstein, a drama therapist with almost two decades of experience working with Alzheimer’s and other patients in Chicago also spoke of how art—a painting, drawing, or piece of music—can be used as a stimulus to work with patients’ memories.
Since the verbal part of the brain is more affected than the visual and the creative part, it makes sense to communicate through art.
As researchers continue to search for ways to better treat Alzheimer’s and other progressive dementias, there is a definite need to spread awareness and education regarding this illness in India. Treatment of other co-existing diseases and following proper advice from a doctor which can help in managing the behavioural changes associated with Alzheimer, is an absolute must.
The relationship between brain activity and creativity is still little understood, and yet with the ever-changing scientific discoveries year after year, it might just help in managing Alzheimer’s diseases. In the short-term, as a therapeutic activity, art and music can help people suffering from this disease to not just be in complete frustration on how to communicate with their loved ones.
Sources & Info:
For more information on how to manage AD, please visit:
#1. World Health Organization. Fact Sheet No 135. Geneva: World Health Organization; 1998. Population Ageing – A Public Health Challenge.