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In Museums, Those With Alzheimer’s Find Themselves Again

Art revives memories, and sparks flashes of personality, humor, and perception.

At the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, an ARTZ group pondered a painting called Sunday Stroll by Robert Dickerson, in which a man and his two daughters walk together through a town looking at buildings. They come to one whose windows are all black. Why are they black, a leader asked? The ARTZ group thought they might be dirty, or that the building was unoccupied.

Finally, one woman said “Oh yes, I had the windows done in my house this morning.” Morning was just three hours before, a particularly vexing time frame for a person with Alzheimer’s who has little short-term memory. But she was right—a window-cleaning crew had been at her nursing home that morning. The painting had elicited a memory, small but in the case of this woman, loaded with content. The painting brought meaning to her life through memory of home, of being in charge, of living.

Linda Greider is a freelance writer who lives in Washington.

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