Art’s enduring role in therapy

Art as a form of therapy and indicator of neurodegenerative diseases.

Art as therapeutic intervention began as a discipline in the 1940’s with the artist Adrian Hill.

The concept of art therapy began when Hill was being treated at a sanatorium for tuberculosis in England. The artist suggested the idea of participating in art projects to other patients at the sanatorium. This ultimately led to the publication of Art Versus Illness where Hill wrote about his experience as an art therapist. Fast-forward seventy-seven years, Alzheimer’s has become the 6th leading cause of death in America, killing more people annually than breast and prostate cancer patients combined. Art continues to be an imperative form of therapy in neurodegenerative diseases.

As a treatment for Alzheimer’s, patients are often asked to illustrate a self portrait, a scenery, or a memory and the image that materializes can become indicative of the stage of Alzheimer’s the patient is in and the speed which the disease progresses. The main objective of art therapy treatment is to provide a form of communication and catharsis for internalized emotions. Art Therapy engages the patient in a mentally, physically and emotionally focused way, and encourages communication through a non-verbal yet visible and tangible form. Art has recently surfaced in the medical world as an intervention in detecting signs of Alzheimer’s through fractal analysis of brushstrokes.

A group of scientists have published a new study in Neuropsychology journal examining the cognitive deterioration of artists through fractal analysis of their brushstrokes. The scientists examined 2,092 artworks from the oeuvres of artists that were diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases and artists who were not. Results of the study revealed that the artists who were diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases showed signs of brushstroke differences as early as 40 years of age. Artists who did not have any neurodegenerative diseases showed signs of brushstroke differences much later on in their careers.

Because art is non-syntactical, it carries much value in terms of communication for patients dealing with neurodegenerative diseases and provides a wealth of knowledge for art historians, indicating the small changes that happen in the minds of artists.

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