AlzU Blog

An Intergenerational Program for Honor's Students Helps People with Alzheimer's Disease

“Bringing Art to Life” is an inter-generational program aimed at helping people with Alzheimer’s disease and college students, in Alabama.

The program, now in its 5th year, founded by Daniel Potts, M.D., is now offered as an elective Undergraduate Honors course for Art Therapists at the University of Alabama, (UA)—Tuscaloosa. 

Bringing Art to Life offers students an opportunity to learn about Alzheimer’s disease (and other types of dementia as well as traumatic brain injury), as students spend time on and off campus.  Carrie Ezell facilitates the off-campus art therapy sessions.

Students have responded overwhelmingly positive to the program—even those who do not have a connection with a person with dementia.  The college students get an opportunity to see for themselves how art can help those in need of support—such as those with dementia or traumatic brain injury.

The Inspiration for the Program

The program founder, Dr. Potts,  was inspired to develop the Bringing Art to Life program after he experienced Alzheimer’s disease (AD) firsthand—in his own family.  Potts’ father—Lester Potts—was diagnosed with AD and was said to decline very quickly, becoming agitated in the later stages of the disease.  When Lester attended art therapy classes at the local adult day center, it was one thing that helped to alleviate his agitation.

The adult day center Lester attended was called Caring Days; it was there that Lester met George, an art therapist who volunteered to help at the center.  Lester had never shown much of an interest in art before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but, nonetheless, he became engrossed in painting.  The art project was said to give him an outlet with which to communicate better with his loved ones.  The Caring Days art program enabled Lester to have a better life, connecting him to his own sense of creativity and to others, again—as it does with many people who suffer from dementia.

The experience motivated Dr. Potts (who specializes in Alzheimers disease) to support art therapy, and to eventually become an advocate of programs that offer art therapy for neurology patients.

“The course [Bringing Art to Life] was the perfect fit for the UA Honors experience,” Dr. Potts explained, in a recent Huffington Post article.  “It combines service learning with the arts and humanities, and builds intergenerational relationships involving students of diverse majors, and invites collaboration among various disciplines and organizations in the community. I think the game changer, if we want culture change regarding the way our society stigmatizes those with dementia and mental illness, specifically, and any so-called “disabilities,” in general, is to grow empathy in our young people. If they can get inside the skin of people that have these conditions, touching the pain will unleash the hope for a better way, and create the impetus for change,” Potts concluded.

Feedback from College Students

The Bringing Art to Life program has received stellar feedback from students at UA, such as Maggie Holmes. Maggie had a grandmother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease; she said that the program helped to change her relationship with her grandma.  Maggie explained,  “Sometimes when I would be with her, I wouldn’t be as understanding as I should be. However, after a few of my art therapy sessions, I felt as if I became more patient and supportive.”  Maggie used the art therapy skills she was learning in the program to improve her communication and interaction with her grandmother.  “I salvaged my relationship with my grandmother while there was still time left. I learned to love my grandmother as she was in the moment and not to think of her as someone suffering from dementia. I’m so thankful for Bringing Art to Life for helping me to improve my relationship with my grandmother and for encouraging me to establish and create fond memories with her before she passed away,” Maggie concluded.

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