This is a story about approaching Alzheimer’s through a wellness orientation. And, in my mother’s case, it is about an artist regaining the confidence to sign her paintings and exhibit her work. It is about people regaining their sense of identity, instead of progressively losing it. My mother´s determined spirit, exuberance, and an insistence on living, can be seen in her paintings. With the guidance from art students, her creativity has taught others that we must not dismiss, or underestimate, what lies just below the surface.
Learning about Hilgos’ experiences, and those of many other people with memory impairment who have found a renewed sense of identity through creative activity, can help us to think of Alzheimer’s in a new way. When she painted my mother truly seemed to come alive. I want to share these experiences, in the hope that they will help show how our society can address the challenge of Alzheimer’s, and other mental illnesses, not only through the search for new medical treatments (which might prevent or at least slow the progression of the disease) but also through the healing, communicative power of the creative arts.
When Hilgos passed away, the Hilgos Foundation was founded. It gives awards to students at the Art Institute of Chicago, and enables them to work with people living with memory impairment problems. Since its creation this award has helped launch a movement that has spread much further than Chicago, now reaching other parts of the US, and even across the world. We have also created a film, a documentary about the positive impact of art and other creative therapies on people with alzheimer´s.
We want to help as many people as possible change their lives through creative activity, not only through painting, but also through music, family games, sculpture, dance, art discussion, signing, and everyday activities such as cooking and gardening.
Alzheimer’s neurologists and other doctors have helped me to understand why such therapies can be so helpful, pointing to the fact that they awaken areas of the brain that have not been affected by the disease. We hope that our story, and the stories of others in this film, will help educate those who are touched by Alzheimer’s.
Berna Huebner, USA