I Remember Better When I Paint directed by Eric Ellena and Berna Huebner screened at the ALL Arts Gallery in Lowell, MA on June 7. The film was the fourth of six films in the 2011 Lowell Film Collaborative’s Film and Art series.
The documentary introduced information about the disease as well as presented the personal stories of people living with Alzheimer’s. Some of the symptoms people living with Alzheimer’s face include apathy, anxiety, and agitation. “I can’t do what I used to do” becomes an overriding mantra leading to a cycle where the Alzheimer’s sufferer continues to have less and less confidence in his or her abilities.
While a large body of research does not exist on the effectiveness of art as treatment, many caregivers who work with Alzheimer’s patients have turned to art as a therapy to help their patients manage symptoms. Hilda Goldblatt Gorenstein, an artist whose work was featured in in the 1933 World Fair, told students of the Art Institute of Chicago who were visiting her in a care facility, “I remember better when I paint.” The students worked with her as she started painting once again and noticed her mood shift to enthusiasm as she continued to paint regularly. The film described how this same kind of transformation occurs to many people living with Alzheimer’s who also create art.
Besides creating art, there are many initiatives at Alzheimer’s care facilities to bring their residents to art museums so that they can discuss the work with each other. Many people who see these museum visitors interacting are surprised to find that they are in the disease’s late stages. The film showed people living with Alzheimer’s describing the expressions and emotions of the characters in paintings at museums, a contrast to an almost awkward silence that can occur when they remain at a care facility.
Special guests Sean Caulfield, co-founder of Artists for Alzheimer’s; Dr. Ruth Remington, Associate Professor at UMass Lowell; and Julianne Hertz, Arts Therapist and instructor at Lesley University held a discussion after the film.
One audience member told about her concerns connecting with her mother in a nursing home. Hertz suggested bringing in some CDs of music and magazines with ads from the mother’s early years. Another audience member expressed concerns about a loved one experiencing paranoia. Caulfield recommended empathizing, stating that action will be taken, and then following through, without lying. When asked about stuffed animals as a gift for people in a nursing home, Dr. Remington warned that it is important to give age appropriate materials as gifts so that care facility staff won’t react by “baby talking”. A stuffed animal of a realistic cat would be an appropriate gift, but a stuffed animal that might cause the staff to “baby talk” should not be given. All three stressed that people with Alzheimer’s need to be treated with age appropriate respect.
Along with the issue of respecting family members with Alzheimer’s, the panel also discussed how people living with Alzheimer’s will tend to rise up to challenges if expectations are set appropriately. Many family members who give up on Alzheimer’s family members often feel surprised that their loved ones might have the ability to dress and feed themselves after they challenge the family member to exceed his or her current capabilities. Including the family member in more activities can help the family cope with the struggles of Alzheimer’s.
Artists for Alzheimer’s, co-founded by Caulfield, is looking for artists to volunteer their time. Check out Artists for Alzheimers if you are interested.
The Lowell Film Collaborative’s next screening is a special outdoor screening on June 22 of Riding Bikes with the Dutch at Shedd Park in Lowell. See The Lowell Film Collaborative for more information.