An Artistic Outlet for Alzheimer’s

Having a relative who had Alzheimer’s, I have always been intrigued by how our brains can affect how well we perform daily activities and go about our daily lives. Upon learning about van Gogh’s struggles with his health and observing the deterioration in van Gogh’s speech through the letters between him and his brother Theo, I began to wonder what the probability is that I or another loved one of mine will also get Alzheimer’s or any other mental illnesses, and if so, if we would be able to notice the deterioration ourselves.

Family Chinese New Year 2.jpg
A very old photo of me with my family. Third from the left is my grandpa, who had Alzheimer’s.

As a progressive disease that is co-morbid with dementia, Alzheimer’s currently affects about 5 million Americans. Within this population, about 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 experience early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (EOAD), while anyone over the age of 65 experiences late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD) ( For people with Alzheimer’s, the most common symptom is memory loss, which progressively deteriorates with older age. Other difficulties may include disorientation, mood swings, and speech impairment. While the cause is still uncertain, there is evidence of a correlation between an increase in levels of proteins called plaques and tangles and a decrease in memory retention, which may be due to an accumulation of the proteins, resulting in a disruption in the flow of information from nerve cells to the brain and subsequent difficulties especially in learning environments ( 

Increasing levels of plaques and tangles in certain areas of the brain that can affect memory.

Since we do not understand Alzheimer’s effects on the brain enough to pinpoint a specific treatment, there is a lot of ongoing research dedicated toward finding a cure. Today, patients are prescribed one or both of two FDA-approved medications: cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine ( However, since treatments are so limited, some research has begun looking into how certain areas of our lifestyles can impact our health, such as art.

A parietal view of the brain showing levels of EOAD phenotypic variant overlap in an Alzheimer’s patient.

According to an article published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, art therapy can help Alzheimer’s patients “engage attention, provide pleasure, and improve neuropsychiatric symptoms, social behavior, and self-esteem” (Chancellor 2014). One such place where art therapy has been put into practice is at the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) Alzheimer’s Project in New York City. Through MoMA’s program called Meet Me at MoMA, Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers attend a monthly session where they go on tours of the museum, analyzing different pieces of artwork and contributing to various discussions. Here, subjects are exposed to a positive and uplifting environment where researchers hope subjects can practice “mental stimulation and cognitive exercise” (Rosenberg 2009). However, it is unclear if such forms of art therapy can actually improve the ease of learning new concepts and retaining the information in their memories. Regardless, researchers hope to find a correlation between visits to the art museum and decreases in social isolation and depression rates and increases in self-esteem, mood, and quality of life (Rosenberg 2009).

Overall, Alzheimer’s Disease is a serious health issue around the world as the number of diagnoses is expected to triple by 2050. While there are no significant treatments or cures for Alzheimer’s, I think it is really interesting how simply exposing people to a positive environment can greatly impact a person’s health, whether that is short-term or long-term. With that said, it can also go to show how our environment can be just as influential as our genetics when it comes to impacting our health and well-being.

Works Cited

Chancellor, Bree, et al. “Art Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, IOS Press, 1 Jan. 2014,

“Medications for Memory.” Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia,

Mendez, Mario F. “Early-Onset Alzheimer Disease.” Neurologic Clinics, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2017,

Rosenberg, Francesca. “The MoMA Alzheimer’s Project: Programming and Resources for Making Art Accessible to People with Alzheimer’s Disease and Their Caregivers.” Taylor & Francis, 2009,

“What Is Alzheimer’s Disease?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 Sept. 2019,

“What Is Alzheimer’s?” Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia,

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Tedy Dasher says:

    This is a very interesting side to Alzheimer’s that I, and probably many others do not know about. I have seen loved one’s suffer from this and know how hard it is on family members and friends. I think this is a very important discovery, considering that there is no real treatment for this disease. Art is really one of those things that help so many people with whatever they are facing. It’s so fascinating how something as simple as interpreting art can help keep your brain active. I think art should be incorporated in many patients suffering from Alzheimer’s lives.

  2. Marcia Pettis says:

    After reading this, I learned a lot of information about Alzheimer’s that I never considered before. I found it really cool that something as simple as a positive and uplifting environment can be beneficial to those affected. This makes a lot of sense in retrospect because I remember I had a family member who had Alzheimer’s. When she was sick she would always ask to go to the museum or go to a park and no one understood why she’d love going there so much, but after reading this I have a better understanding of her habits.

  3. Kendra Askins says:

    This is a potentially bright side of a devastating disease. I think it’s really cool that art is being used as a release/inspiration for people that need it the most. An increase in mood and attention is the first step to improvement.

  4. Abby Bucklin says:

    I think it’s really cool how they are using art to help those with Alzheimers and it’s even better that it’s showing signs of working.

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