The Art of Alzheimer’s began as a celebration of my mother, Jean McFee Raichle. Living with mid-stage Alzheimer’s and devastated by the death of Robert, her husband and best friend of 72 years, she found solace in an Elderwise® painting class. While she hadn’t painted since childhood, her paintings were mesmerizing—enabling her to express her thoughts and emotions though art.
I began sharing the art with family and friends. The response was immediate—first surprise and then gratitude to experience a story about Alzheimer’s that was filled with joy and hope instead of the common narrative of loss and pain.
Thus, began The Art of Alzheimer’s—dedicated to the power of the creative arts to enrich and empower the lives of persons living with dementia. Our first exhibition, The Artist Within, featured paintings created by members of the Elderwise family. It was followed by a second, then another and another, reaching thousands of people with the simple truth that persons living with dementia are Still Here, with gifts to give and lives to live.
I now embark upon a new chapter in my life as the Executive Director of Maude’s Awards for Innovation in Alzheimer’s Care. An initiative of the Richard & Maude Ferry Foundation, it is dedicated to the discovery, encouragement and sharing of innovative programs, products and practices able to enrich the lives of persons living with dementia and their care partners.
I will forever treasure my work with The Art of Alzheimer’s. To the many artists and their families who gladly shared their artwork, thank you so much. To the organizations and individuals who have supported our work, thank you.
Happily, Elderwise will carry the mantle forward. Creating space to age well, Elderwise invites adults living with memory loss to creatively and meaningfully engage with each other through art, discussion, movement, and shared meals. To learn more, visit Elderwise.org.
I leave you with my favorite painting by Mom—her interpretation of a butternut squash. I call it the Orange Meanie because the face looks just like the Blue Meanie from Yellow Submarine. To use her favorite phrase, it is “just delightful.”