By Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN
"The true worth of a (person) is not to be found in (that person) him/herself, but in the colours and textures that come alive in others." - Albert Schweitzer
My motivation to write about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias was my father, Lester, an artist who had Alzheimer’s. A neurologist and only child, I found myself struggling in a dark place in 2002, just after my father’s diagnosis. I felt like a restrained bystander bearing witness to a crime I could do nothing about.
As strange as it may seem, caregiving skills were not taught in medical school. Thorough knowledge of the pathology and clinical manifestations of Alzheimer’s was not helping in the day to day challenges being faced mainly by my mother, Dad’s primary caregiver. I felt I didn’t know enough to help. Seeking the best opportunities possible to support Dad, we enrolled him in a wonderful adult daycare center, Caring Days in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and immediately Dad’s affect brightened and behavior and interaction skills improved. This was largely due to the validating, dignifying care he received there.
Then came the art. A volunteer artist with a knack for sharing his gift came to work with the clients, and Dad showed a previously unknown talent for artistic expression. Over four years, he painted 100 original watercolors. His creativity was transformative not only for him, but for all those around him. It seemed the spirit of the very one with the disease was lifting the spirits of all of us.
I remember waking in the early morning hours of January 1, 2006 with a poem in my head. Writing it feverishly, I then read what seemed unfamiliar words. Yet I recognized its beauty, and shared it with others. Thus, began my exploration of a newly found gift. This gifting had been kindled by Dad’s art, causing colors and textures to “come alive in others," as Dr. Schweitzer describes.