ARTZ implements interactive, educational museum programs for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. Conceptualized and developed by ARTZ in 2003, this groundbreaking program was first implemented in partnership with the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, subsequently garnering worldwide attention and acclaim. Most importantly, the ARTZ Museum Program has had a positive influence in the way in which the general public views Alzheimer’s, i.e. that having a diagnosis does not prevent one from living fully, engaging with the world, and having a voice. This initiative has since been realized at the National Gallery of Art in Australia, the Louvre, the California Museum, Harvard University's Sackler Museum, Peabody Essex Museum, and many others throughout the United States.
Today there is a dire need at museums for qualified, research-based Alzheimer’s-based training programs. There are over twenty-five million people living with Alzheimer’s disease worldwide, and that number is expected to triple over the next twenty years. Current medications have given a glimmer of hope to some—but have yet to show anything approaching a significant lifestyle difference for those taking them. Until a major breakthrough in medicine takes place, whether it be a pill or vaccine, museums and other cultural institutions that want to be part of battling this disease must make a concerted effort to develop, implement, and evaluate high quality specialized programs for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
Observations and evaluations carried out as part of the ARTZ program have shown improvement in participants’ access to memories (whether for recent event or events long passed), improvement in verbal expression, ability to focus attention for longer periods, heightened mood, more engaging social interactions and a greater sense of self. We have also seen that memories of the art experiences stay with them in an incredible way. The link between art and quality of life among those living with Alzheimer’s seems self-evident and deserves to be made more profound. This program is a relatively inexpensive form of treatment because it consists of making available an existing and available cultural history which itself is a treatment.
While Alzheimer’s disease does affect short-term memory and the ability to complete some complex tasks—such as cooking a gourmet meal or driving an automobile—it has far less impact on perception, emotional awareness, and creative sensibilities. A person living with Alzheimer’s can comprehend visual art, music, and performance art on a deep, emotional level—even if it may not be apparent to a casual observer. In many ways, individuals with Alzheimer’s are more “in tune,” if you will, with the subtleties and multi-layered complexities that art conveys. Simply put, art reaches out to the person with Alzheimer’s and helps restore to them a sense of self, dignity, and connection with the outside world. The ARTZ Alzheimer’s training program enables museums to connect to this underserved population.