Program aims to unlock the memories of patients with dementia
For many people, looking at art sparks both intellect and emotions. For those with dementia, evidence suggests that viewing art can unlock memories that have lain dormant for years.
“Some patients respond to the visual images that art provides,” says Richard J. Lederman, MD, PhD, a Cleveland Clinic neurologist. “It can awaken areas of cognitive function that they have not been using.”
Cleveland Clinic’s Arts & Medicine Institute, led by Iva Fattorini, MD, is developing a program that will not only help tap into these memories but further enhance the person’s quality of life. Slated to begin in late 2010, the program will offer tours of Cleveland Clinic’s art collection for dementia patients, their caregivers and families.
With a goal to encourage dialogue with the patient, the tours will be designed to help patients feel a connection to the outside world, enjoy social interaction and foster self-expression.
“It’s about engaging and asking the right questions,” says Jennifer Finkel, PhD, Cleveland Clinic’s Art Program Curator. “It’s not about lecturing; it’s about making a connection.”
After a brief summation of the artwork, specially trained docents will facilitate discussion with open-ended questions such as, “What does this painting make you think of?” Even when memory is affected, the imagination remains rich. For instance, a certain color combination in a cityscape painting might trigger a memory of an Italian honeymoon or childhood night sky.
Family and caregiver participation will keep loved ones engaged with the patient at a time when communication may be diminished, and the social interaction is expected to address the isolation so often felt in patients with dementia.
Created in collaboration with the Cleveland Museum of Art and New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the program is believed to be the first of its kind in a hospital setting. The tours will take place on weekends – when there’s less traffic – on the second floor of the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Pavilion. If successful, the tours could be extended to patients with autism and other disorders.
“It’s exciting to share our collection in a different way,” Dr. Finkel says. “Education is something we strive to do.”
Cleveland Clinic’s Art Program includes works by local, national and internationally known artists. The collection of more than 3,500 works of fine art is dispersed throughout Cleveland Clinic in patient rooms, hallways and public spaces.
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