Program uses art to help spark memories for those with Alzheimer’s, dementia

Posted at 1:30 PM, Jan 14, 2019

For many people, artwork is a glimpse of what could be. But for others, it sparks vivid reminders of the past, becoming a beautiful reminder of what was.

Denver Art Museum’s Art and About program is working to help bring people’s most cherished memories to life. The program is designed to spark memories for those slowing losing them.

Wayne Schindler visited the museum with a group of others who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia. For Schindler, one picture of a farm brought back memories of his childhood.

For visitor Ed Whitney, it took him back home.

“I like the hills,” Whitney says, looking at a picture. “The western hills of Oklahoma.”

Whitney was born and raised in Oklahoma and went to every Oklahoma Sooners football game, up until a few years ago, when his Alzheimer’s made it too tough. He and his wife, Kathy, have attended this museum’s program for nearly three years.

“You always see something different,” he says. “You see something that you remember.”

Dan Linseman, with the Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging, says accessing memories through art helps Whitney and others here maintain neural networks.

“Those are probably bona fide memories that are being stimulated by the artwork. That maybe otherwise they wouldn't be able to verbalize,” Linseman explains.

While more research needs to be done to see if programs like these enhance cognitive abilities, they've been shown to help improve quality of life and socialization, which can decrease depression associated with memory loss.

“We learn, we have fun down here, and we get to interact with other people in the same situation and create the community,” says Whitney’s wife, Kathy.

It’s a community connected by memories, and often only an image away.