Written and directed by Eric Ellena and Berna Huebner, and narrated by Hollywood legend Olivia de Havilland, the 2010 film focuses on the positive impacts of the creative arts on Alzheimer’s patients. It shows that creative initiatives, such as drawing, painting and even museum visits, are effective therapies, and have been known to improve the quality of life for both patients and caregivers.
The film includes interviews with Yasmin Aga Khan, president of Alzheimer International and daughter of Rita Hayworth, who explains that Hayworth suffered from the disease, and took up painting to help cope with it. But the main focus of the film is the touching story of American painter (and mother of one of the filmmakers) Hilda Goldblatt Gorenstein (1905-1998), who signed her work “Hilgos”. Gorenstein was a nursing home patient in the mid-1990s, and was so withdrawn and agitated that her doctor prescribed tranquilizers as part of her treatment. Seeing no real improvement her daughter Berna asked if she would like to try painting again while she was visiting one day. Her mother responded, “I remember better when I paint.”
I can attest to the healing of the creative arts in my own life, but the documentary provided a scientific reason why this is so with Alzheimer’s. It works because parts of the brain related to emotions and creativity are largely spared by Alzheimer’s altogether, or at the very least until the late stages of the disease. It’s essential viewing for people who are coping with the Alzheimer’s, or any type of dementia, and who want to learn more about non-medicinal ways to help. For as one doctor asked in the film, what is the use of prolonging life with drugs if you can’t improve the quality of life with it?
Aside from the documentary, the building itself was worth the visit. Located on 22nd Street between Market and Chestnut Streets, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, founded in 1787, is the oldest professional medical organization in the country. When you walk through the front door you are reminded that Philadelphia is “the birthplace of American medicine.”
Throughout its 225 year history, the College has provided a place for both medical professionals and the general public to learn about medicine as both a science and as an art. Most events and discussions held here are free and open to the public. It’s also home to the Mutter Museum, which provides an interesting look back at the history of medicine, and just how far we’ve advanced.
For more information on the film, visit irememberbetterwhenipaint.wordpress.com/page/2/. For more information on The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and future events, visit www.collphyphil.org/Site/The_College_of_Physicians_of_Philadelphia.html