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Arts therapy helps memory-loss patients
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The jumbled memories of faces and places long forgotten seem to grow clearer with each brush stroke on canvas.

For people suffering with Alzheimer's disease, exposure to art can unlock the mind.

A new nonprofit group is working to trigger the memories of Alzheimer's patients in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and elsewhere with art. Organizers of "Art Without Boundaries" use volunteers to bring a form of art and physical therapy to seniors suffering with memory loss.

The therapy, called MnemeTherapy, combines song, movement, art and positive reinforcement to stimulate the brain, even damaged areas.

"We get both sides of the brain synchronized," said Noell Hammer, Florida-based founder of the therapy, who has tested it on thousands of patients. "The other side of the brain can pick up the slack ... We have seen some dramatic changes."

Patients who have tried the therapy, Hammer said, have mood changes and temporarily regain some of the language they had lost, or recognize family again for a time.

Some doctors say that art exposure can temporarily reverse the anxiety, aggression, agitation and apathy found in some Alzheimer's patients. "This is a very dark disease. There is no remission; it's just downhill," Hammer said.

Tia Severino, an amateur painter, is organizer of the Georgia group of Art Without Boundaries program and is working with her daughter, Kate Johnson, a high school senior, to launch the endeavor. Both are believers that art can be an important source of therapy for seniors.

Art Without Boundaries, a foundation launched in South Florida about seven years ago, has apprentice groups in 10 states working on campaigns to help seniors suffering from memory loss. The therapy has been used on patients in nursing homes, private care facilities and senior centers. The patients learn to dance and paint with the help of a therapist.

"The act of creating, the movement involved, the brush stroke, the colors, the communication that is going on between the therapist and the patient has meaning to them," Severino said. "A picture from their past comes to life right before their eyes."

(Shanghai Daily January 10, 2008)

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