BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Around five million Americans currently live with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. It's a disease that can't be prevented, cured or even slowed down with certainty. A pair of Louisiana artists is helping to raise awareness through a powerful exhibition. It's only one way that art can contribute to the cause.
Art therapy has been shown to help dementia patients by stimulating memories and conversations. At Charlie's Place, a respite center run by Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area, it's just as therapeutic for caregivers, especially this time of the year.
"We see after they visit over the holidays, the families will call us and say, 'You know, we don't know what's going on, we see these symptoms',"' said Barbara Auten, executive director of Alzheimer's Services. "And that's when we recommend they get to the doctor and get a memory screening done, and introduce the thought that this may be coming or advancing."
Doctors often refer families to Charlie's Place, and now some of those very clients have themselves become pieces of art.
A unique show called "Finding the Forgotten… In the Shadows of the Mind" combines the drawings of Taryn Möller Nicoll and the ceramic sculptures of Becky Gottsegen.
"As I would sculpt each one, I feel like they're my friends and loved ones, so even through they're people that I've only encountered a few times in the last six months, I felt so honored really to have the privilege," Gottsegen said.
Behind the eyes of her sixteen busts are the souls of dementia sufferers from all walks of life. There's a pipefitter, a mother of five, former WAFB anchorman Paul Gates, and Alice, the mother of the artist.
"I took her to neurologists, I had MRIs. I was so sure it was something else, which it wasn't," Gottsegen recalled. She also watched her grandmother and aunt die with the disease.
Alongside the busts are drawings that take you inside the brain. Nicoll is the Artist in Residence at LSU Health's Neuroscience Center of Excellence. She works one-on-one with Dr. Nicolas Bazan to see what the different stages of Alzheimer's look like under a microscope.
"One of the most important things for me is not only depicting the disease, but trying to find a way to describe what the family members are going through, trying to feel as an artist what it's like to lack control," Nicoll said.
The goal of the exhibition is to spark conversation and interest, not only in the disease, but the millions of faces that stare it down. The artists believe their medium is a less threatening way to approach such a cruel disease.
"Being able to focus on and incorporate signs of the research that's being done is my way of saying this fight isn't over," Nicoll explained. "We can still find a cure, we can still work together to treat these amazing people who currently have the disease."
The busts and drawings are for sale with the condition that they'll be loaned out if the show travels around the country. Proceeds benefit the Gallery at Manship and Charlie's Place at Alzheimer's Services.
"We want to give them the quality of life that they're entitled to and let them live with dignity," Auten added.
Alzheimer's Services encourages anyone with questions or concerns to call their HelpLine at 334-7494 or 1-800-548-1211. They serve the entire ten-parish area.