Jul 25, 2011

Enjoying Art – Doing What I’ve Always Done

There is still “something there” within each of us and we shouldn’t let go of that easily.

By Bill Schoux

Bill and Elise Schoux
The short version of my life is that I had a full career as a Foreign Service officer with the US Agency for International Development. After my retirement from the government in 1992 I continued to work in democracy development around the world.

I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009, but experienced problems with my memory for a few years before that. Since Alzheimer’s disease has changed my life, there are many things that I can’t do anymore. I can’t concentrate enough to work. I don’t enjoy travel any more.

I used to enjoy attending lectures at local universities and think tanks. Now, these are more difficult for me to follow and I rarely go.

I try to stay focused on the things that I have, and not the things that I have lost.

One thing I still have is the ability to enjoy art and music. I try to visit museums as much as possible. A visit to a museum gives me just as much joy as before and these have become all the more important to me since I am not able to engage in other activities that I had enjoyed.

In the Washington, DC area, where my wife and I live, we are fortunate to have many museums with great collections. One museum in particular, the Kreeger Museum has developed a program that specifically benefits those of us living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and our families. The Kreeger Conversations program provides small docent-led interactive tours and discussions at a level people with declining cognitive abilities can access and appreciate. Their program is based on a program developed by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, NY. My understanding is that MOMA is working with a number of museums around the country to replicate it.

Visiting a museum gives those of us living with Alzheimer’s and our caregivers a way to get out of the house. It is also an activity that is safe and easy to do. As important, is the fact that each of us can enjoy it at our own level.

Even though we have Alzheimer’s or another dementia eating away at us, we can still appreciate paintings, sculpture, and music. I encourage everyone to look into the programs available at their local art museums, galleries, and universities. If there is no specific program for people afflicted with memory loss, get your caregiver to take you to see the art anyway. You can view the works of art together, discuss what you see, what memories it invokes, and how it makes you feel. Often, too, there are music programs to enjoy.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s and won’t be in my lifetime. The best I can do is keep my quality of life as high as possible. Like Bob DeMarco and Dotty, we have developed a program that works for us. It’s focused on doing what we’ve always done and enjoyed.

We go to the gym regularly, visit visual art venues and music performances, get out into the bright light, and socialize with others.

There is still “something there” within each of us and we shouldn’t let go of that easily.

MOMA - Art and Dementia Lecture (Audio)

Bill Schoux is 71 and a retired Foreign Service Officer with the US government's foreign aid agency, USAID. He joined USAID during the Vietnam war, served there for 4 years, and was then posted in Washington, DC, After retiring from the governent in 1992, he and his wife Elise were consultants in democracy and governance. Bill still speaks Spanish and retains enough Vietnamese to order in a favorite restaurant. He was diagnosed with MCI in late 2003 and dementia of the Alzheimer's type in 2009. His wife, Elise, is his caregiver and partner in all things. Although life is different and has its challenges, they stay focused on good things and each other.

More Insight and Advice for Caregivers

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room