According to a study, the ability to draw, both from memory and spontaneously, and play music are preserved in the brains of people with advanced dementia. Experts said that the findings show that teaching art and music may help ward off the condition as well. The researchers based their findings on the last few years of the life of Mary Hecht, an internationally renowned sculptor, who was able to retain her artistic skills despite an advanced case of dementia. “Art opens the mind,” study author Luis Fornazzari, MD, said in a statement. “Mary Hecht was a remarkable example of how artistic abilities are preserved in spite of the degeneration of the brain and a loss in the more mundane, day-to-day memory functions.”
These findings are not surprising, said Daniel Potts, MD, a neurologist and dementia specialist, because art therapy has been frequently used as a way to help treat dementia patients. “Art therapy is helpful for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients,” Dr. Potts said, “because it enables an individual who is having trouble communicating to bypass the language problems they may be having and communicate and express themselves in a different way.” It is unclear, however, why artistic ability isn’t affected by dementia. “There seems to be something about the production of art that can bypass some of the other problems of dementia,” he added. “Art and music seem to draw from many different regions of the brain.” While art is not a cure for dementia, it can help patients in many other ways and help them to become more than their disease.
“It gives an individual a sense of accomplishment,” he said. They’re losing their cognition, but art therapy gives them a way to create and get some satisfaction.”