Museum art and Alzheimer’s program connects with creativity

Gail Reid says art gets her endorphins working, which helps with her Alzheimer’s disease. (CBC)

The beauty and shared experience on museum tours fills Gail Reid with joy and a sense of camaraderie in her journey with early Alzheimer’s.

Some Canadian art galleries and museums offer tours to help make a connection between art, artifacts and the mind for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Reid, 69, often tells friends it’s not the same as forgetfulness. “It’s confusion. You can’t trust yourself.”

On a tour of the Royal Ontario Museum in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Toronto, Reid often smiled, watching and listening intently to a guide share stories behind the artifacts. She enjoyed the feel of a small, cold Inuit carving.

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She fondly recalls touring an exhibit about toilets and gained a new appreciation for modern plumbing.

The art programs at galleries and museums are meant to enrich physical and mental health and don’t require short-term memory.

Art offers opportunities to connect on different levels, said Victoria Jakobson of the Alzheimer Society of Toronto.

Builds meaningful connections

“It’s the opportunity to engage in a meaningful way, to connect with others, to connect with culture, with history,” said Jakobson.

Reid participates in the monthly tours with other patients.

“We call ourselves the A team,” Reid said. “There’s some funny things in that, because it’s Alzheimer’s, but it helps. It helps us think of the positive experience and will keep experiencing.”

While the diagnosis brings sadness and loss, there is also a flip side, Jakobson said. “New ways of doing things and new ways of engaging with the world.”

The museum’s director and CEO calls it a remarkable program he hopes uplifts patrons.

“It can remind you in the case of people with Alzheimer’s of exciting ideas and places that they’ve been,” said Josh Basseches.

Reid said her “endorphins were really working” during the tours and she always leaves the feeling wonderful. Now she also colours with her grandchildren, a creative outlet to connect across generations.