Painting is not going to stop Alzheimer's disease as it slowly steals memory and personality from its victims. Yet there is something about art that stirs the soul of Alzheimer's patients and, in that process, their spirits seem to be soothed.
In a realm of primal sub-consciousness at an art therapy class at the Meadows Center in Dallas, Marie Borton, a former Dallas school teacher, twirls her paint brush and chuckles, "I'm not serious, I'm just puddling along."
Borton talks about her career at many school districts, the students she had and how lucky she was to have had all those experiences in her life. The paint flows easily from her life's brush - and so do some lovely memories.
The paint box of life is not always happy and the brush strokes don't come easily for Margaret Lewandowski, who struggles with painful memories and mixed emotions. "I can't sign my name or even a letter; it's very hard," she explains.
But even when hands and words fail, the group of artists supports each other, says Cynthia Sickler, activities assistant at the center, who began the program just over a year ago. "They are very kind to each other and we have a lot of fun," Sickler said.
Nationally known as "Memories in the Making" by the Alzheimer's Association, the class is funded locally by the Maslow Family Foundation of Luzerne County. It meets once a week for two hours.
"This is probably the most intensive one-on-one time they get every week," Sickler said. "They open up; they take time to interact and they really do know what's going on."
Sickler, who would like to see a permanent Alzheimer's unit at the center, says it was difficult at first to get the artists to share and relax but the stress-free environment allows for easy communication, relaxation and tremendous validation for the residents.
Scientists say the arts stimulate the parietal lobe of the brain, even in the very last stages of Alzheimer's disease, to remember and respond.
The seniors showed off their work on Aug. 26. The point of the exhibit is not so much about the results - although good art did result - but about the process which calls up emotions and memories first shared and then somehow calmed in the minds this numbing disease violates.
Persons interested in volunteering or purchasing note cards and art produced by residents should call the Alzheimer's Association in Wilkes-Barre at 822-9915.