Exhibit showcases artwork of dementia patients

Adrienne Burch

Art has a special ability to impact or invoke thought in those who see it and, through a project directed by a University professor, is being used as a means of therapy, expression and reflection for area dementia patients.

The iniative, called Art to Life, is an exhibit showcasing the artwork of patients suffering from forms of dementia and is hosted by The University of Alabama Honors College and Cognitive Dynamics.

Daniel Potts, an associate clinical professor in the College of Community Health Sciences and the course director for Art to Life, founded Cognitive Dynamics in 2012 after his father was diagnosed with dementia. Potts said his father turned into a watercolor artist, which inspired Potts to use expressive art as a means to improve the quality of life of dementia patients.

Potts said using artwork as therapy for patients is important for many reasons.

“[The arts] validate the person with dementia in their present existence, at a time when losses can be overwhelming,” Potts said. “They can give back a sense of pride.”

In addition to helping the patients cope, Potts said that art can also provide positive emotional responses. Art therapy can improve a patient’s mood, lessen agitation, increase expression and even aid in the patient’s recollection of their life story.

Emily Broman, a junior majoring in chemical engineering and psychology, is the course facilitator for the Art to Life honors class. Broman was introduced to the program her freshman year.

“I was truly inspired, not only by the woman with whom I was privileged to meet each week and her resilient spirit, but also by the idea of person-centered caregiving and the emphasis Dr. Potts placed on dignifying engagement for our participants,” Broman said.

The Art to Life class is made up of 12 students handpicked from the Honors College and the department of telecommunications and film. Those in the honors class meet with their patients once a week to work on their art projects and attend a lecture class that discusses elements of dementia, caregiving and art therapy.

Students from the TCF department help tie the course together by creating videos of the final projects, which are then given to the patients and their families.

Broman said that this intercollege cooperation allows for the patients to be honored through their art and to remember their life stories.

Ausherea Adams, a sophomore majoring in studio art, said she believes art can have a very positive effect on those suffering from mental illness.

“For me, art is already an outlet that calms me when I’m dealing with things beyond my control,” Adams said. “I think that incorporating art into mental illness treatment would have the potential to unleash a part of the brain and thought process that can lead to a very calming and rewarding experience.”

As far as planning a gallery, there are many aspects that have to be addressed.

Donna Adcock, director of public relations for UA Libraries, said more often than not, a specific college on campus who wishes to host a gallery contacts her. Adcock works closely with Gorgas librarians and the UA faculty to decide what works will be featured in the collection.

Adcock said the exhibitions relate to current events. For instance, Gorgas will be hosting a political exhibit beginning Sept. 4 to coincide with the upcoming presidential elections.

“I will also discuss the neurology and science behind artistic creativity in Alzheimer’s disease and give examples of other artists with the illness,” Potts said. “The persistence of personhood despite disability will be touted and I will discuss our previous experience with Art to Life.”

Potts’ speech will be held Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. in room 205 of Gorgas Library.