Pursing Creative Arts Could Prevent or Delay Alzheimer's

Caregiver, patient expert

Completing crosswords, making a habit of Sudoku and playing challenging brain games on the Internet have long been suggested as methods of maintaining our cognitive health. These are all fine pursuits, but  recent research by Mayo Clinic  has shown that creative arts such as painting, drawing and sculpting may protect the mind against cognitive decline even better than the commonly used forms of brain exercise.

This study concentrated on older people who had developed Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) which can be a precursor to Alzheimer's disease for many. The study found that participants who had taken part in the arts were 73 percent less likely to have suffered memory or thinking problems than those who did not. Other pursuits that were helpful were crafting, socializing in general, and computer use. However, these pursuits weren't statistically as helpful as painting, drawing and sculpting. The researchers feel that the reason that practicing the creative arts is so successful is that it not only stimulates the mind but uses fine motor skills.

Are people with dementia more creative?

There is still much to learn about the brain, however many people, including  art therapists  who've worked with people who have dementia, have been impressed by their clients' responses to visual art and their ability to create art.

One of my favorite books about caring for people with Alzheimer's was written by John Zeisel, Ph. D.   In "I'm Still Here," Zeisel writes about trips to museums where people who had Alzheimer's interpreted art work. It seems that their ability to look at these works of art differently than people without the disease gave them improved perception. Dr. Zeisel is now president of the  I'm Still Here Foundation.

Another example comes from Neurologist Daniel C. Potts, M.D.   Dr. Potts was so inspired by his father Lester Potts' transformation from saw miller to watercolor artist during Lester's dementia journey that Dr. Potts has developed a foundation called  Cognitive Dynamics. The foundation's goal is  to make these therapies more widely available. I've seen photos of Lester Potts' painting and they are deeply moving.

All creative arts show impressive healing power

Whether the creative art pursued is  theater, music or painting, studies continue to show that these activities may help protect people from dementia,  improve quality of life  for those who already have it, as well as help people after illnesses of many types including cardiovascular events.

Research presented at the 12th Annual Spring Meeting on Cardiovascular Nursing in Copenhagen, Denmark reported on the  importance of creative arts in healing, stating:

"Patients who appreciated music, painting and theatre recovered better from their stroke than patients who did not"Patients interested in art had better general health, found it easier to walk, and had more energy. They were also happier, less anxious or depressed, and felt calmer. They had better memory and were superior communicators."

There is still no cure for Alzheimer's disease or even a reliable way to prevent it. However,  lifestyle has been shown to make a difference. A healthy lifestyle, of course, involves diet, exercise and keeping the mind active.

This ongoing research into the arts shows that improving our lifestyle by developing our latent artistic skills could improve the quality of our lives no matter where we are in life.

Carol is a  newspaper  columnist and the author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. She runs award winning websites at _ www.mindingourelders.com  and_www.mindingoureldersblogs.com. On Twitter, f_ollow Carol @mindingourelder and on Facebook:_ Minding Our Elders

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