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Tech Talk: An App to Spur Creative Expression in Alzheimer's Patients

Collier, Andrea King

doi: 10.1097/01.NNN.0000459058.43822.d1
Departments: The Waiting Room

Tech Talk: An app spurs creative expression in Alzheimer's patients!

GE MIND

GE MIND

A new app brings the arts into the home for people living with Alzheimer's disease and other neurologic disorders. For caregivers and family members, it also helps foster a sense of connection with a neurologically challenged patient.

The GE MIND app, which is available for free for the iPad, features several interactive modules intended to engage patients and their families in creative activities. Patients can draw images on a digital sketchpad, decorate a virtual birdhouse, listen to music from around the world, and watch videos to learn simple dances and stretches that encourage body movement and facial expression. They can even create their own music on a virtual piano.

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BEYOND THE ARTS

In addition, the app has a section called MIND Facts that caregivers can access to learn about the progression of a variety of neurologic disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, and stroke. For people living with the earlier stages of a disease, the MIND AID section offers helpful tips on topics like organizing finances and labeling cabinets in order to find things with ease. These tips can be equally helpful for family members and friends as they manage the care of their loved ones.

Daniel C. Potts, MD, a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and the founder and president of Cognitive Dynamics, an organization that promotes arts therapy for people with neurological disorders, helped bring the app to life as a medical consultant. Dr. Potts has long been a champion of the arts as an outlet for patients with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. His own father, Lester, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2002. During art therapy classes, Dr. Potts discovered that his father, who had never before shown an interest in the arts, had a genuine talent for painting.

“I started to explore the benefits of music, painting, and dance for Alzheimer's patients and found that art can transform someone's life,” Dr. Potts says. “In my dad's case, discovering painting and art improved his quality of life and gave him validation.”

Finding and nurturing his father's hidden talent also deepened what Dr. Potts thought was a lost ability for father and son to communicate.

GE Healthcare contacted Dr. Potts after learning of his work with Cognitive Dynamics. He agreed to help develop the MIND app after “having seen that my dad had gotten a new lease on life through art,” he says.

Some assisted living and nursing care facilities are already using the app in routine care, but it's also become popular among family caregivers in the home.

Dr. Potts adds that the app is not just for people with Alzheimer's disease. People with Parkinson's disease and certain kinds of traumatic brain injuries also stand to benefit from it, he says.

“We have to meet people where they are,” Dr. Potts says. His father tapped into his newfound artistic talent and actually went on to do gallery showings, even though he had Alzheimer's. “But it's really not about the quality of the art that is created.”

Apps like MIND, as well as other types of art therapy, help create new kinds of interactions, rekindling meaningful relationships and tapping into whatever communication is still available between the patient and the caregiver, Dr. Potts says.

Angel Duncan, MA, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the executive arts director at Cognitive Dynamics, also helped to develop the app. “There is something about [this kind of] art therapy that helps people with neurological conditions overcome communications barriers,” she says. “The visual nature of art provides a way for people living with Alzheimer's to tap into their memories again.”

Dr. Potts agrees. He says it is common for patients to draw the house they lived in many years ago, or a pet they had, even when those memories appeared to be long gone.

The app is available for free on the iTunes store. For more information about the GE MIND app, go to bit.ly/MINDapp.

© 2014 American Academy of Neurology