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Alzheimer's Disease, Artwork, and Hope

  • Published: 2012-05-10 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-06) : Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss
  • Synopsis: With Alzheimers dementia comes a reminder of failures and loss but the Making Art program is not about failure as every picture is important and valid.
Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative
Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative - The Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative is a national grassroots charity with a mission of raising awareness and funding research. The organization auctions and sells donated quilts, sponsoring a nationally touring exhibit of quilts about Alzheimer's.

Main Document

"Artists with Alzheimer's speak through powerful brush strokes of color and tentative tracings of line, pulling us into their world."

Alzheimer's disease is a form of dementia that causes a person to experience issues related to thinking, memory, and behavior. The symptoms a person experiences often times develop slowly and worsen as time passes, eventually becoming severe enough that they interfere with the person's ability to perform daily tasks. Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 50-80% of persons with dementia.

Alzheimer's disease is not a regular part of aging, even though the largest known risk factor is advancing age. The majority of people who experience Alzheimer's are age 65 and older. Alzheimer's is not; however, simply a disease experienced as a result of aging. Approximately 5% of persons with the disease experience, 'early-onset Alzheimer's,' something that is also referred to as, 'younger-onset,' and often appears when a person is as young as in their 40's or 50's.

Alzheimer's is a progressive form of disease, worsening over time, involving symptoms that gradually worsen over the years. During the early stages of the disease the memory loss a person experiences can be mild, while in late-stage Alzheimer's a person's ability to pursue a conversation or respond to their environment become severely impaired. Sadly, Alzheimer's disease is the 6th leading cause of death in America. People who experience the disease live an average of 8 years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, although the survival range may be from 4 to 20 years depending upon the person's age and other health conditions.

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, although treatments for symptoms are available and research concerning the disease is ongoing. While current types of Alzheimer's treatments are unable to stop the disease from progressing, they do have the ability to slow the worsening of dementia symptoms while improving the quality of the person's life and the lives of the person's providing care for them. A worldwide effort is underway in hopes of finding better ways to treat Alzheimer's disease, delay its onset, and to prevent it from developing.

The Memories in the Making Art Program

'People say that art, "speaks," to them. It speaks to their soul in a way words do not. When words fail, a work of art can tell as story, express an emotion, recreate a memory and serve as a vehicle of expression. Art allows for validation of feelings and a way to communicate with each other.' - Author La Doris "Sam" Heinly

The year 1986 found artist, board member and caregiver Selly Jenny - whose mother had Alzheimer's disease, exploring the use of an art program to identify the extent to which people with dementia could reveal themselves through the medium of art. The majority of them had never painted before - but the response was uniformly positive, as well as revealing and reaffirming. Through this effort, the Memories in the Making Art Program was born. It has grown into a calendar, a training manual, an art exhibit and more; expanding to national and international scales.

With Alzheimer's dementia comes a constant reminder of failures and losses. The Memories in the Making Art program is not about failure; each and every single picture is both important and valid. The value of each picture lies in the creative process of making art, as well as the expression of feelings and emotions which are trapped inside. The sense of accomplishment people feel brings them renewed joy and self-respect.

Exhibits through the Memories in the Making Art program present a selection of paintings and stories of artists with Alzheimer's. The messages are from artists who are striving to maintain their own identity and dignity despite dementia. Each of the paintings is named by the artist and is their own creation.

Artists with Alzheimer's speak through powerful brush strokes of color and tentative tracings of line, pulling us into their world. Looking at their paintings, we have the ability to see their stories in a language that needs no words. Paintings by these artists show us glimpses of who they were and remain, calling out to us in ways we simply cannot ignore.

The Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative - From Heartbreak to Hope

The Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative is a national grassroots charity with a mission of raising awareness and funding research. The organization auctions and sells donated quilts, sponsoring a nationally touring exhibit of quilts about Alzheimer's. The, 'Alzheimer's Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hope,' exhibit is a traveling exhibit that venues across America through the year 2015 and features 236 quilts. The, 'Name Quilts,' are long and narrow and are made from 55 purple patches - each of which are marked with the name of a person who has or had Alzheimer's disease or a related form of dementia.

While viewing the exhibit it is important to note that the, 'wrong,' side of the fabric patches are showing; there is a reason for this manner of display. The colors on the quilts appear faded, and the bright side of the cloth, filled with the colors and patterns of life, has been turned to the inside of each quilt - never to be seen again. The Name Quilts create a wall of more than 10,000 names representing and honoring the 5.4 million people in America who have Alzheimer's disease. Among the Name Quilts are 54 small format art quilts which tell the story of Alzheimer's from a number of different perspectives.

The Heartbreak to Hope Exhibit will appear in Hamilton, Ohio at Berkeley Square between June 8th and 10th, 2012. Each of the Name Quilts is 6 inches wide by 7 feet tall, with the names of loved ones written on the fabric patches by family members and friends. If you can, visit this exhibit when it comes to your community and honor the millions of Americans struggling with Alzheimer's disease.

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