Anyone who has ever doodled during a meeting or been side-tracked by a hallway painting will know that art can be an excellent distraction from normal, everyday life. While the concept of art as a distractor holds true for everyone, it holds especially true for people whose everyday life is muddled with pain, anxiety, cognitive murkiness, depression and other health issues. Art is a great escape from the stressors and physical strain that envelop those with chronic or acute health issues. Clinically, art is more than just a simple distractor and is known to have tangible medical effects such as decreased levels of circulating stress hormones, decreased rates of depression, increased immune functionality and increased marks in self-scored quality of life tests. In fact, simply viewing artwork in hospitals has been significantly correlated with decreased duration of stay, lower admission rates and decreased use of prescription pain killers. The science behind this phenomenon is staggering and well documented, but the overview is essentially that by stimulating brain regions associated with pleasure, neurotransmitters (tiny communication molecules) from these regions will dampen the activity of brain regions associated with fear and anxiety, resulting in a lowered release of stress hormones. It is these stress hormones that decrease the effectiveness of the immune system and increase the risk of developing depression when left unattended to.
To emphasize the power of art at alleviating health issues, we would like to make special notice to a previous resident at Richview Manor, Nora F. Living with Parkinson’s disease, Nora’s day to day life was turbulent, with bouts of tremors and instability that punctuated her day. However, Nora has always found respite in art – as an avid painter, Nora was happiest when she was painting and during these times the anxiety, worry and physical tremor associated with her Parkinson’s disease was non-existent. She was truly in her own little world – one where she refused to be defined by her disorder. Nora’s paintings have been featured in the Canadian Parkinson’s Society Calendar and she has been honoured with the Jubilee Award for her volunteerism and philanthropy. Although Nora’s story is amazing, it is not a unique one; many of our residents respond positively to arts therapy and show a reduction in both behavioural and physical symptoms – illustrating just how universal arts therapy is.
At Richview Manor, the therapeutic effects of art have been explored in a variety of our arts and craft programs. Our largest and most successful art-based program is Creative Expressions – a program started by Marisanna Tersigni, an art therapist with a degree from York University. Creative expressions club focuses on paint based approaches to creating artwork, through guided, reference based or free-form expression. In this way, residents are encouraged to create art at whatever level they feel comfortable. As part of the program, Marisanna organized the resident Art Show, where she displayed the resident’s framed artwork for viewing by family, friends and guests. Residents were also given the chance put their artwork up for auction, with all proceeds from bids being completely put back into funding our future resident programs and events. Other than Creative Expressions, residents also have a plethora of art activities available to them – the favourites being card making, knitting, beading and “Quilty Pleasures” – a club where residents create surreal landscapes and psychedelic abstracts through the unique and specialized medium of quilting. Regardless of the medium, at the end of the day, these clubs are about giving residents the freedom and opportunity to stimulate their creativity, consolidate and express their emotions and overcome their personal hurdles through the power of art.