Music, art therapy available at Alzheimer's walk

Treatment helps with communication and motor skills

Treatment helps with communication and motor skills

October 10, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

As Alzheimer's Disease progresses, the ability to communicate through speech becomes impaired, but there are creative ways to continue communicating and interacting, says Mary Ellen Mitchell, development coordinator for Greater Maryland Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

These include music and art therapies that allow people with Alzheimer's to share experiences such as singing or working together on an art project, Mitchell says.

This Sunday's 12th annual Memory Walk at Hagerstown Community College will include a music therapist and art therapists for people with Alzheimer's.


The Hagerstown area walk tends to attract more people with Alzheimer's than other walks in the chapter's area, probably because registration, food and entertainment are set up indoors in the Athletic, Recreation and Community Center, Mitchell says. This also provides an indoor setting for the walk if the weather is inclement.

This is the only walk in the chapter's coverage area, which includes 19 counties, featuring music and art therapists this year, Mitchell says.

Alzheimer's is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys the memory and ability to learn, reason, communicate and do daily activities, according to the Alzheimer's Association's Web site. A person's personality and behavior might change too. For instance, they might become anxious, suspicious, agitated or delusional.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's, which an estimated 2,700 people in Washington County have, Mitchell says. The estimate was extrapolated based on Census 2000 data and that one in 10 people age 65 and older and half of the people age 85 and older have Alzheimer's.

Improving quality of life

Therapies such as music and art can improve the quality of life for people with the disease, according to Mitchell and music therapist Gary Slavinsky from Columbia, Md.

Music can help reduce their agitation, Slavinsky says.

Gail McDermott and her partner in Frederick County, Md.-based Art on Wheels, Diane Hurwitz-Specht, provide art lessons to residents at nursing homes, including a woman in Frederick County who has Alzheimer's.

"It just brings her back to where she was a little bit before is what her home caretaker told us. She's more alert when we're around. She paints and has beautiful paintings," McDermott says.

The woman can speak, but there are many days when she doesn't know what is going on, McDermott says. "It takes her a minute or two to remember who we are. It all clicks back in when we pull out the painting ... supplies, the paper, the art, the pictures we want them to paint."

"It just lifts her spirits and her mind up," McDermott says. The woman talks with her housemates about their artwork and "it brings her back to a little bit of reality."

People at Sunday's Memory Walk can come over to McDermott's and Hurwitz-Specht's table and create small watercolor paintings, McDermott says.

Music and art also can help with motor skills, say McDermott and Slavinsky.

Slavinsky's music therapy sessions can include drumming or playing another rhythmic instrument, which uses motor skills. Having people with Alzheimer's drum also can help determine how well they follow directions, he says.

At Sunday's walk, Salvinsky says he'll probably orchestrate group singing activities.

"Lots of people who don't speak any more will sing songs," Slavinsky says. Music can help people with different types of disabilities and even people without disabilities to focus, he says.

"Music, especially, touches the soul and so many times someone who will not respond to you through words will respond to you through music and so we see people who sometimes cannot engage in eye contact and things like that. Music stirs them and we see a light in the eye and we see a smile on the face," Mitchell says.

Memory Walk

Mitchell expects more than 300 people at Sunday's walk.

In addition to the walk, there will be live music and entertainment, including performances by the Williamettes, Miss Washington County Emily Conrad, Frederick Keyote, Big Dog; arts and crafts; face painting; balloon animals; and massage therapy.

A special collection will be taken to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina, many of whom were dealing with Alzheimer's disease, according to an event news release.

Individual walkers who raise $100 will get a T-shirt and a chance to win door prizes. Incentive prizes will be available for people who raise more than $3,000.

Last year's walk raised more than $40,000 that stayed in Washington County to support the association's core services, she says.

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