Alzheimers ReportCommunity Workshop Case Studies
I recently worked with a man of 65 with a rare form of Alzheimer’s called Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA) John had been a teacher and writer and an avid gardener knowing the Latin and common names of the plants in his large, mature garden. I was recommended to John by a friend and he came to my studio with his wife Mary. Although Mary was keen to talk about the work I was doing within all elements of the community and the benefits that were coming from the work, John was disinterested and disengaged from the conversation, he spent much of the time looking around my studio at the work on the shelves, when eventually he did speak he commented that he didn’t feel that he could be creative with clay and couldn’t see how it might help him concentrate and cope with his failing memory. To please his wife more than with any enthusiasm on his part he agreed to a two hour workshop session.
Having worked with groups of people living with the effects of a stroke or head trauma I knew the general scheme of work to plan for the workshop with John. It is my belief that areas of the brain that get effected by PCA need to be stimulated and almost forced to operate by a series of visual and manual dexterity exercises . As a bicep responds to exercises that work it, so the brain responds to exercise. With other brain exercises like reading or maths or logic puzzles the brain is being forced to work and produce the correct answers. The advantage of my work is that it is purely creative, there are no wrong answers. By working through a series of processes, applying clay to an armature, using the hands symmetrically, allowing the visual information to enter the brain through the eyes and be converted to a movement of the fingers to manipulate the clay, allowing the brain to work along dormant neural pathways that cannot be reached by any other activity. By using pure creativity, areas at the back of the brain start to spark into action, as with any muscle that is not used it will wither and fail. For me the reasons for the under-use and subsequent failure are easily understandable. For thousands of years man has had to use enormous amounts of creativity to survive. Today we don’t really have ‘think’ to survive, generally we don’t have to fight for food, find wood to heat ourselves, build our own shelter etc and now because of the computer we have to think even less, as a result our brain is so underused.
During the two hour session with John we didn’t set out to create anything in particular I wanted him to get a feel for the clay, a substance he had not touched since he was at junior school 60 years ago. Following my simple direction and realising how forgiving the clay was John was very soon engrossed in the work he was creating.
Within one hour John had revised his opinion and was a real enthusiast to the work that I’m doing, he purchased the necessary clay and armature to allow him to work in the comfort of his own home and is working everyday on the creative exercises. This doesn’t mean he has hundreds of sculpted heads covering his house, he uses the same clay and armature every day, sometimes he will do nothing more than creating a pleasing abstract form, on another day he will spend hours creating a work of figurative sculpture he is incredibly proud of, in this instance he can either take a photograph of it or bring it to me for moulding and casting.
John has been using my scheme of creative work for 30 days, he is finding improvements in his concentration and memory and in some cases his sight is much more defined and colours more vibrant. His speech is more fluent as he is able to find words much more easily. An important addition is that he is calmer, more patient and tolerant with those around him and has a greater sense of well being and self esteem, he is also creating some highly imaginative works of art.
The benefits for John’s wife are also substantial , she said “John was becoming a stranger to me but now he’s my husband again”.
I would like to be able to expand this experience into a clinical trial, where the results can be reported empirically over several individuals and defined time frame. Funding will be required to complete this clinical trial and report on its findings.