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Silver Linings: Artists with dementia create works to benefit Alzheimer's research

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 07. 2017 9:39PM
Pictured is some of the artwork by residents with memory loss which will be up for auction today at The Arbors of Bedford to benefit the Alzheimer's Association. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

BEDFORD — These artists have spent weeks experimenting in paints, inks, glass and other materials to produce more than 100 works to be auctioned off today in hopes of raising some money.

That money won’t be going to help them directly. Each of the artists has mild to moderate dementia and their works are being auctioned to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association.

The artists are residents of the memory care community The Arbors of Bedford. They created these paintings, vases, dreamcatchers and note cards with the help of engagement specialists Lisa Emerson, Julia Swanson, Joe Hannaford and Jenny Evans.

Emerson spoke of one project where the residents used sand and shells in their work. They played music from the Beach Boys and these artists talked about their memories on the beach while drizzling sand and gluing shells to turquoise canvases.

“It opens up their own minds and the reminiscing, the memories, the engagement, it all comes out,” Emerson said. “It’s so beautiful when it happens.”

Numerous studies have shown the arts is beneficial to people with Alzheimer’s and other memory impairments. Whether it be music, painting or dance, these art forms offer relaxation and social interaction while building confidence and self-esteem.

Emerson explains that when someone develops dementia, they rely more on sensory-based information like touch. For some, it becomes their way of communicating their feelings, Emerson said.

“You see their mood change as they do it,” Emerson said. “They would never have thought to put their mood or feelings to paper.”

Emerson said most of these artists are from a generation that worked and worked hard.

“These people prided themselves on working hard so they didn’t have time for hobbies,” Emerson said. “Now they are in the golden years and enjoying these hobbies.”

Swanson and Emerson spent Friday preparing for today’s art show, which begins at 1 p.m., labeling the artwork with the artist’s names, putting a few more paintings into frames. Swanson said that many of these creations were born out of ideas found online, but the residents changed the instructions and goals of the projects into something completely different.

“It’s wonderful to see it all happen,” Swanson said.

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday news report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at or (603) 206-7739. See more at

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