Music and art bring joy to dementia patients - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Music and art bring joy to dementia patients

Participants in the Nic’s Here and Now dementia art program paint to a recording of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” last week. The finished paintings will be displayed during the WSO’s performance on March 14. (Courtesy WSO, Ben Winckler Photography)

CASPER, Wyo. – In 1874, Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky ambled through a gallery displaying his close friend Viktor Hartmann’s paintings.

The experience, and likely Hartmann’s paintings, would’ve been forgotten blips in history if Mussorgsky hadn’t been inspired to write what is often considered his defining composition, “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Flash forward to last year, when Wyoming Symphony Orchestra executive director Rachel Bailey was brainstorming with staff after Mussorgsky’s composition with Ravel’s epic orchestration had been selected for the March 14 program.

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“Instead of having art inspire the music, why not have it be the other way around where the music inspires the art,” said Bailey.

The WSO had wanted to partner with Wyoming Dementia Care on a project, so the idea of joining the organization and the Nicolayson Art Museum’s Here and Now art classes for dementia patients came together.

Last Thursday, four dementia patients and their caregivers gathered at the Nic, along with representatives from Wyoming Dementia Care and the WSO, and painted as a recording of Mussorgsky’s music played.

Dani Mandelstam-Guerttman, executive director and program manager of Wyoming Dementia Care, says music is a powerful recreational therapeutic tool for dementia patients.

“Through the dementia process, of all the different areas of the brain affected, the one part of the brain that seems to stay intact the longest is the music side of the brain,” said Guerttman.

“Even when people are in the late stages of dementia, unable to feed themselves or communicate, they can remember hymns or songs they grew up with. Those things are with them until the end of life,” she said.

The Here and Now classes are held twice a month at the Nic. Guerttman says they’re not only designed to stimulate penitent’s brains, they provide essential contact with the outside world.

“It’s keeping them involved in our community and keeping them socially engaged, not isolated,” said Guerttman, who says isolation is one of the biggest risks of people suffering from or dealing with dementia.

“Not only does the person with dementia become isolated, but the caregivers do too.”

Participants in the Nic’s Here and Now dementia art program paint to a recording of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” last week. The finished paintings will be displayed during the WSO’s performance on March 14. (Courtesy WSO, Ben Winckler Photography)

All of Wyoming Dementia Care programs are free thanks to private donations and grants. The organization offers numerous resources and support to caregivers.

When the organization started several years ago, most caregivers were spouses. Now Guerttman says she sees more children and grandchildren caring for dementia patients.

“It was really fascinating on how much music did impact their art creation,” said Bailey after watching the four artists in action.

“All of the artists were present, calm and so engaged in the project, and the outcome of their pieces were so very different,” she said.

In honor of next week’s WSO performance of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” the four finished paintings will be on display in the NCHS lobby before the concert, and later that evening during the concert after party at the Nic.

Wyoming Dementia Care is also giving vouchers for respite care to caregivers to enjoy a night at the symphony, which will be free of charge to them.

“I’ve read a lot of how powerful music is with healing, but it was the first time I’ve experienced it,” said Bailey.


The Wyoming Symphony Orchestra Saturday, March 14, performance will feature Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with guest soloist Simone Porter, and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Tickets can be purchased here.

To learn more about the Nic’s Here and Now art for dementia patients, click here.

For more information on Wyoming Dementia Care, click here.

Participants in the Nic’s Here and Now dementia art program paint to a recording of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” last week. The finished paintings will be displayed during the WSO’s performance on March 14. (Courtesy WSO, Ben Winckler Photography)