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For Alzheimer’s Patients, 
Art’s Therapeutic Effects Are Transformative 

In the 1990s, Berna Huebner was struggling to communicate with her
mother, the painter Hilda Gorenstein, who was suffering from
Alzheimer’s disease. “I asked, ‘Mom, do you want to paint?’” says
Huebner, who heads a Chicago charitable foundation. “And her eyes
opened up and she said, ‘Yes, I remember better when I paint.’”
Gorenstein, a marine artist who had once painted murals at a 1933–
1934 Chicago World’s Fair, “wasn’t able to focus at all,” remembers
Huebner. “I thought it was her hearing. I called her doctor, and without
even blinking he said, ‘Why don't you call her old school and get some
students to paint with her?’” Gorenstein subsequently began to paint
with a handful of students from the School of the Art Institute of
Chicago, her alma mater. After working with a student for several weeks
she began to paint again. “It struck a chord,” adds Huebner.
Fast forward to 1999, and Huebner founded the charitable Hilgos
Foundation to provide grants for art students to work with Alzheimer’s
patients. A decade later, a documentary, I Remember Better When I
Paint, co-directed by Huebner, shows the positive effects of art and
other creative therapies on Alzheimer’s patients. It has now screened
internationally and been broadcast on public television. “There are
more and more people working with art and Alzheimer’s,” says
Huebner. One reason is the increasing body of research supporting art’s
transformative effects on those suffering from the disease.

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