Should Promoting the Arts as Treatment for People with Alzheimer’s Receive More Attention?

  • In a talk at Cheltenham Science Festival, Dr John Zeisel made it clear that current attitudes about people with Alzheimer's are outdated. In a news article on, titled, "Call to change Alzheimer's attitude,,"  Zeisel, president of  Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, an international provider of non-pharmacological treatment for people with dementia, was quoted as saying, "We need a complete sea change in attitudes towards Alzheimer's if we are to even begin to respond to this growing health crisis."


    Zeisel wants to see culture and the arts used in programs for people with Alzheimer's replace drugs and nursing homes. In a recent post titled, "Using the Arts to Promote Quality of Life for People With Alzheimer's" that I wrote for OurAlzheimer's about the arts, programs here in the U.S. that are flourishing. While not everyone would go as far as Zeisel, it seems, worldwide, that an appreciation for treating Alzheimer's patients as you would treat anyone else - with respect, education, visual and mental stimulation - is gaining support.

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    Zeisel said in his talk, "Current attitudes to Alzheimer's are woefully outdated and could be compared to the way that epilepsy or autism was viewed in the 19th century...The stigma surrounding Alzheimer's limits our ability to see the real person. It is now time to see past the disability and understand that people with dementia are still there."


    This reminds me of the way people look at those with dementia, and the embarrassment some family members feel when out in public with a loved one who is "behaving inappropriately." Hmm, could educating the public a bit about the abilities of those with dementia be something we ought to focus on a bit more?"


    Certainly, drug research needs to continue. Discovering natural (such as exercise and diet) and pharmacologic ways to prevent or reverse damage from Alzheimer's disease is vital. Ways of stopping or reversing Alzheimer's disease in is certainly a priority.


    But shouldn't it also be a priority to increase the quality of life for those who already have the disease? Shouldn't money be made available to research ways to approach the art, music, education and pleasurable excursions to interesting locations be made available for people with Alzheimer's and their caregivers? Could it be that with more direction in these areas, there'd be less agitation and frustration on the part of the person with Alzheimer's, and also less caregiver burnout? Could it be that fewer drugs would be needed?


    Zeisel put across some interesting and strongly worded statements in his talk. Food for thought, I would think. Let's hope there are grants available and researchers willing to take the risks needed to prove some of this thinking correct. People with the disease deserve every chance to lead fulfilling lives. I applaud these efforts and will be watching new developments in the area.


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Published On: June 08, 2009