Alzheimer's Study

Frederic Edwin Church, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, 1883. Oil on canvas, 40 x 60 1/2".

Study of effects of artistic engagement Alzheimer's patients

Posted by Katherine Koss September 15, 2009

This is the first in a series of posts about the Alzheimer's study. Please check back frequently for updates, and share your thoughts on the study below.

This summer eight MFA graduate students from the Sam Fox School completed a docent training program designed specifically for working with adults who have early-stage Alzheimer's disease, as part of a collaborative research study currently under way at the Kemper Art Museum.

Led by Mary Beth Hassan (MSN, MFA candidate), "Expanding a Visual Discourse: Art, Alzheimer’s and Aesthetics in the 21st Century," combines three unique perspectives – the artist, the educator, and the scientist – in an ongoing study of the effects of artistic engagement on the quality of life of adults with Alzheimer's disease. The program expands on the "Meet me at MOMA" program initiated by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2006.

Hassan first became interested in the idea of starting up a similar study when she began to study at Washington University in 2006, and was encouraged by Patricia Olynyk, director of the Graduate School of Art, to take advantage of the ability to pursue multidisciplinary research as an MFA candidate. "I really wanted to do practical research that was fun, while also contributing to both science and art," Hassan said. "I realized that there was a unique opportunity for artists to have a role in creating community programs."

The goals of the study are threefold. The first is to establish a targeted docent training program for MFA graduate students that can be adapted to other institutions and community groups, and which teaches docents to facilitate discussions about art with program participants. The second is to combine forces with the Kemper Art Museum's Education Department to promote the use of the museums as a community resource. The third is to engage Alzheimer's patients in a proactive activity — a conversation stimulated by art — and to then evaluate the dialogue to better understand the effects of artistic engagement on the quality of life experiences for those who have Alzheimer's disease.

In addition to collaborating with the Museum, Hassan has worked with Dr. James Galvin, associate professor of neurology, who's in charge of Education & Rural Outreach at Washington University's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center. His focus has been on promoting an interesting educational model that encourages positive life experiences for the Alzheimer's patients.

"This study is unique to the field of Alzheimer's research because it combines an educational component with a scientific design that focuses on both qualitative or descriptive documentation and quantitative data," Hassan said. "By combining the resources of the Kemper Art Museum and the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, we have a unique opportunity to expand both the understanding and appreciation of art from multiple perspectives."

The next phase of this pilot study is to conduct the museum tours, document the discourse between patients and docents, and evaluate behavioral tools and data. That will lay the foundation for the development of a more rigorous and extensive study on the Alzheimer's disease process.

About the image: Frederic Edwin Church's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the first work that will be discussed on the tour. Full credit information:
Frederic Edwin Church, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, 1883.
Oil on canvas, 40 x 60 1/2".
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis.
Bequest of Charles Parsons, 1905.