Using Alzheimer’s Art to Lift the Heart

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.   Thomas Merton

“Alzheimer’s is scary and art isn’t,” says Marilyn Raichle of Seattle, WA.

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Marilyn’s mother Jean discovered her inner artist when she was a mere 89-years-old. Jean had never painted before: when she was growing up on a farm, art was considered childish and frivolous.

Initially, when Jean developed memory problems, she didn’t turn to art. But after Jean’s beloved husband died, Marilyn took her mom to a painting class sponsored by Elderwise, a Seattle-based non-profit that focuses on creative and spirit-centered care.

At first, Jean thought the idea was stupid. But Marilyn noticed how happy her mom was after art class. And Jean’s paintings were good. To honor her mom, Marilyn put together a calendar featuring Jean’s work. So many people commented on the delightful, whimsical quality that Marilyn knew her mother possessed a special talent. She began printing greeting cards graced with her mom’s paintings. She uses the cards to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s. alz art 3

“Art is a creative way to get people to think about Alzheimer’s,” Marilyn believes. “While the prevailing narrative about dementia tends to focus on sorrow, pain, and loss, my mother’s art tells a different story. One look at her paintings and you see a mind at work, inhabiting a life of creativity, purpose, and joy.”

The Art of the Artist with Alzheimer’s

“Mom is the happiest woman I know,” Marilyn says.

Her mother has been distilled to her essence and Marilyn enjoys being with her.

“Through this dementia journey, my mom has taught me to be patient,” Marilyn says. “She’s changed how I feel about Alzheimer’s and she’s allowed me to relax and not take things so seriously. Mom is teaching me about taking joy in life.”

Marilyn wants to make the Alzheimer’s conversation life affirming, to inspire people to think creatively about senior care.

Meanwhile, though Marilyn’s had a vibrant career working in the arts and organizing arts festivals, she describes herself as a “terrible painter.” She hopes to relax enough to be able to paint with her mom.

Her mom may be an excellent artist, but she is a humble woman. When Jean is praised for her artwork, she laughs and says, “I must have gotten this talent from your father’s side of the family.”

Alz art

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.    Pablo Picasso

Visit Marilyn’s blog: www.theartofalzheimers.net

Deborah Shouse is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.

2 Comments

  1. Mike Good on January 27, 2015 at 11:17 am

    It’s so wonderful how art benefits so many people. When I was just discovering the Alzheimer’s community, I went to a silent art auction at a local memory care community. Meeting some of the artists and seeing their work created a passion in me to become more involved.

    • deborahshousewrites on January 27, 2015 at 11:19 am

      Thanks for this comment, Mike. My partner’s father had art in one of our local auctions. It was such a thrill to see the creativity of these artists.

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