Home » UK’s visual arts study provides dementia patients with gift for life

UK’s visual arts study provides dementia patients with gift for life

(Photo courtesy of UK School of Art and Visual Studies)

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 5, 2016) — “This is the greatest gift you ever gave me.”

Those are the words of just one of several who participated in the University of Kentucky’s first visual arts study for patients with dementia, held last spring at the School of Art and Visual Studies. The comment, shared with his spouse and caregiver, was all the confirmation she needed to know how valuable the experience was to not only her husband but their family.

That couple was not alone. The majority of the eight-week study’s 41 participants echoed that praise.

Researchers Allan Richards and Ann Christianson-Tietyen were extremely happy with the study’s initial response.

“The spring program was valuable to many and lots of fun for everyone involved. The participants enjoyed creating beautiful works of art. Many expressed a desire to continue pursuing art projects past the duration of the program,” Christianson-Tietyen said.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Alzheimer’s Disease Centers and based on the study’s initial success, Richards and Christianson-Tietyen will present a second study this fall. Like the first study, the eight-week program will include groups of 12 (six people with dementia and their partner caregivers) who will participate in various visual arts activities, including painting, sculpture or collage to explore the effects of visual arts activities on quality of life for people with mild to moderate dementia and their caregivers.

“Our study is focused on providing mentally stimulating and enriching activities in the visual arts for persons with dementia in order to engage cognitive processes, emotions, and motor skills, perhaps slowing cognitive decline and improving quality of life,” Richards said.

From new ideas to new confidence, patients felt they benefited in a multitude of ways.

“I gained self-confidence from the research study,” said a second patient. “Allan (Richards) and Ann’s (Christianson-Tietyen) encouragement helped excite me about my art. I met others and their caregivers who are going through the same things I’m starting to experience. It was comforting to spend time with them. It felt good being around people that are in a similar situation to me and we all wanted to be helpful to each other. The class was much more than art. I learned new techniques that I will use in my own hobby of gourd painting.”

And yet another patient, who was worried about losing his own current artistic skills, found solace in the opportunity to create again, albeit in another art medium.

“Participating in the visual arts study occurred at a good time for me. I just became aware and was realizing, as well as acknowledging, my cognitive and physical failures. I previously held an interest in arts and crafts (wood turning and inlay) which had to be curtailed due to using potentially, dangerous tools. The possibility of a safe craft gives me hope and appears it will not cause me to be a worry and burden to others.”

But patients were not the only ones who treasured the experience. The study was also very interesting to their caretakers, who saw changes, and more importantly, hope in their loved ones.

“It is so difficult for someone with this horrible disease, Alzheimer’s, to have the confidence to do anything, especially new things,” one caregiver said. “So with the help, guidance, encouragement and understanding of Dr. Richards and Ann and the support of the others in the class it became easier for all of them to once again succeed in something. The joy this gave them would not have been possible without the continued encouragement, inspiration and love shown by Dr. Richards and Ann. They made this wonderful, fulfilling experience possible. To see the joy and hear the laughter and see the accomplishments from all the participants, especially my husband, was worth our four-hour round trip drive from Russell Springs to Lexington every week.”

Another patient’s adult child, who serves as her mother’s caretaker wholeheartedly agreed and was thankful for an outside outlet.

“This art class was a wonderful experience for my mother and I. My mother is currently living a very isolated life. The eight-week art class provided her with socialization that she had not been receiving. The class gave us both something to look forward to attending on Fridays. Art education was something we both had always wanted to participate in and UK’s class gave us the opportunity to fulfill a goal.’

The second study will begin Saturday, Sept. 10, and will be held once a week on Saturday or Sunday at UK College of Fine Art’s new Art and Visual Studies Building, located at 236 Bolivar St. The location allows study participants to peruse other artwork by UK students and faculty through its windowed classrooms and gallery spaces letting them see similar art lessons at work and find inspiration for their own art.

“It was a lot of fun coming to UK and seeing the different art exhibits in the workshops and hallways every week, and exciting to see what kind of assignment the professors had for us. It was a weekly outing we both looked forward to each week,” said one participant with dementia.

Each study session will last about an hour and a half. All art supplies are free to study participants and free handicapped-accessible parking is available next to the building.

For more information about the study or to see whether you are eligible, call Richards at 859-361-1483 or Christianson-Tietyen at 859-312-4553.

With the second study just weeks away, the researchers hope once again to hear words like these from their participants. “It was a blessing to meet both of you, and for the gift of art. I think this will make a difference in the way I live and see the rest of my life.”