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April 23. 2014 8:50PM

Art provides healing for Alzheimer's patients in Bedford


David, a resident at the Arbors of Bedford, displays his painting "Embracing Branches," which will be part of the facility's Resident Art Show and meet-and-greet from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Thursday. The event will feature 15 residents' artwork from the Artful Memories program. A silent auction of some of the residents' artwork will be held to benefit the nonprofit organization, Artz for Alzheimer's.SUSAN CLARK 

BEDFORD — Alzheimer's Disease robs a person's memory and cognitive skills, yet it sometimes spares their emotions and creativity.

For David, a resident at the Arbors of Bedford, the poem "The Sugar Maple Tree," by Diann Sheldon, inspired him to express himself through his painting "Embracing Branches."

"I found this poem, and it kind of struck me. The branches are almost clutching and embracing," said David describing his artwork. "It's realistic. I see the trees reaching out."

David (last names of residents at the Arbors, an assisted-living facility for people with Alzheimer's and other memory-impairment issues, are withheld to protect their dignity) will be among the 15 residents whose artwork will be displayed at the Arbors' art show and silent auction from 5:30 to 7 tonight at 70 Hawthorne Drive. Proceeds from the show will benefit Artz for Alzheimer's, a nonprofit organization that provides access to art and culture to people with Alzheimer's.

While residents' artwork may seem simple to some people, it opens a door of communication and allows those with Alzheimer's a chance to show others how they view the world around them.

Emily Biagiotti, activity director, said she has seen progress in many residents involved in the Arbors' Artful Memories program. During the art sessions, the residents paint with pre-filled brushes as the room fills with soothing music. While some artists need direction, others can work individually in a group setting.

Biagiotti has been working with the residents twice a week for several months, and looks at the residents' artwork in admiration.

"This is my absolute favorite population to work with," said Biagiotti. "They look at it as something fun. I try to have an example of something so they don't get lost. Sometimes, one step added can be excruciating for some."

Lori Dodge, the new executive director of The Arbors, said the art program engages residents so they feel they can be successful, and it is therapeutic healing without the use of drugs.

"Art therapy helps bring the resident out of their shell," said Dodge. "It's an alternative way for people to express their emotions and communicate."

Rachel Stadfeld, marketing director, said the Artful Memories program also helps the residents' families.

"Many caretakers feel they have lost a part of their loved one and to see this art is remarkable. It reopens a part of them that was lost," Stadfeld said.

Resident Allen came to the Arbors with early dementia and depression. Biagiotti took him for walks and was able to engage him in activities.

"Allen used to draw maps and was a professional bowler," she said. "He would draw lines and be very happy. He would sit there and concentrate, so it's perfect for him."

David, who had no training in art, was able to take paint to canvas and express himself despite his illness. He grew up on a poultry farm and graduated from Brown University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before being diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he taught physics at the State University of New York at Albany.

Another artist is Rose, who used to be a painter but showed no interest in the program until one day she said she wanted to paint.

"She was an art teacher who traveled the world. She felt her skill level was not what it used to be," said Biagiotti.

Biagiotti has drawn since she could talk and walk, she said. She studied graphic art in college, but after working in a respite facility she decided to get her master's degree in art therapy. One of Biagiotti's inspirations was her grandmother, who battled Alzheimer's disease.

"That had a huge impression in me wanting to work with this population. I was very close to her," she said.

sclark@newstote.com


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