Artistic Discoveries in Dementia

Watching the sun set on life can be difficult, especially if you are witnessing someone you love and cherish withdraw from you, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. This is often the case when our loved ones suffer from dementia and related disabilities. Depending on the type of disease, dementia may be mild, only affecting short-term memory, or it could be debilitating and tough to manage. 

As our population continues to age (over 15% of the population in the United States is over the age of 65), many personal and environmental factors play into our decision to keep our loved ones at home or in a nursing facility where they are  cared for and treated with competence and dignity. Sometimes, though, physical comfort and redemption take precedence over the residents’ mental and emotional well-being, with the effect that, for example, while we may end up ensuring our seniors are in a comfortable chair we may be ignoring that they are not in a comfortable state of mind.

As multiple research studies have shown, engagement with art and creativity may help ease symptoms of dementia such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Not only does art positively affect the physical and sensory quadrants of our brain, it is known that exploration of colors, aromas, and textures may go a long way in relieving emotional and behavioral disorders too.

According to Dr. Daniel C. Potts, who founded Cognitive Dynamics after his father’s death,  “Roadblocks to verbal communication laid by dementia are bypassed through the artistic process, and individuals can express themselves through the art. Concentration and attention improves, and patients are often easier to care for even when the therapy is over.” Neither Dr. Potts nor his family knew that his father, Lester Potts, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s at the time, possessed latent artistic talents. They only discovered his gift after enrolling him in an art therapy program after his diagnosis and watching him come alive. Lester Potts, who was a rural Alabama saw miller, eventually became a renowned watercolor artist and painted until his final days. His paintings, featured in this post, are from the Museum of Health & Medicine, Chicago.

From Talia Beechick, Medill Reports Chicago, Jan. 21, 2016:

Last Thursday, the National Museum of Health + Medicine Chicago hosted an exhibit of artwork created by Lester Potts, Jr., who began painting when he was 73 years old, one year after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Daniel Potts, Lester’s son, said his father “was depressed, apathetic, poorly communicative and anxious prior to starting to paint.” The art helped to “give him confidence in himself, improved his affect and depression, made him more communicative, helped his agitation, and seemed to help stabilize his cognitive condition,” the University of Alabama neurologist said.

Dr. Potts’ father worked primarily with watercolors and enjoyed painting landscapes, boats, animals, and, occasionally, people.

At Fine Art Miracles, we believe everyone flourishes through creative therapy. Our certified therapists and art teachers help seniors delve into works of master artists that they can learn from and about, regardless of talent or experience. This learning process lends both dignity and purpose to the lessons and there is the knowledge that participants are being treated as mature, independent adults, capable of creating beautiful images. 

From uab/Magazine, Lester Potts’ Changing Color Palette, by Adam Clair~ Artist/Volunteer at Caring Days Day Care Program that Lester Potts attended after losing his ability to speak and becoming depressed, on the effects of learning to paint: 

“This man who appeared to be sort of broken by this disease was actually kind of unleashed in some way,” Daniel said. “He became an artist. Vignettes of his life came out of this art. He began to paint crosscut saws that he used to use in the saw mill. He began to paint the ends of logs, sort of a wood grain theme that he would pull into his paintings. He would paint old houses, churches, bird houses. He painted his own sawing buddy and coworker named Albert, a picture of him putting a saw together. He painted his father’s hat and shoes.”

The FAM method begins with a short discussion on the lives of a master artist, for instance Gauguin or Miro, many of whom have led fascinating lives, often bringing chuckles and comments all around. The lives and the work of these colorful masters inspires even the most reluctant participants! We also organize mural paintings which encourage collaborative work among residents and render a festive atmosphere throughout the facility, lifting spirits and coaxing the shy out of their shells.  Everyone can join the fun, offering their own take on the project.

As a response to COVID-19, we are pivoting to Borderless Service Delivery so that our clients can receive bundled “Art2Go” projects at their own residence or at a healthcare facility. ART2GO includes all art supplies and everything needed to facilitate a FAM Art Class for individuals or groups.  

There is no greater joy than seeing the spark in our loved one’s eyes, which says, “I did this!” They may not be able to express their love and their anguish in so many words, but the simple act of holding a paint-loaded brush and bringing something to life is nothing short of miraculous. It is an act that acknowledges and validates their colorful existence in what might otherwise be a black and white world.


Medill Reports Chicago, Jan. 21, 2016,

uab/Magazine, Lester Potts’ Changing Color Palette, by Adam Clair,

Skip to content