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Nasher Museum program flourishes with grant from Alzheimer's Foundation of America

After four years of providing tours for visitors with dementia, the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University has been awarded a $5,000 grant from The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America to help continue funding their Reflections program. 

Originally inspired by the Museum of Modern Art’s Alzheimer’s Program, Reflections provides art therapy through free museum tours and hands-on activities to individuals impacted by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Those living with a memory disorder, their caregivers and their families are guided through live musical performances and art galleries. 

“Almost everyone knows someone who has Alzheimer’s," said Wendy Hower, director of engagement and marketing at the Nasher Museum. "It’s a terrible disease. People with Alzheimer’s find themselves increasingly cut off from the community, and it becomes hard for them to do the kinds of things they used to love to do, but the Reflections program opens up the world of art to people with dementia and Alzheimer’s."

The grant will offset the cost of running Reflections and train other museum professionals in the Triangle Area so that they can offer similar programs. The Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill is in the planning stages of providing similar tours.

“It’s a much-needed service in the community, art and music therapy," said Sandy Silverstein, media relations manager at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. "It’s been shown that art and music therapy is beneficial to memory disorders. It lessens depression, anxiety, and enhances an individual’s quality of life."

Silverstein believes that the program has to be as accessible as possible. This is why the grant is fundamental to increasing the Reflections Program’s marketing and broadening awareness about its resources, said Jessica Ruhle, director of education and public programs at the Nasher Museum.

“If you look at statistics around memory loss, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to have dementia, yet we don’t see many people of color visiting on these tours,” Ruhle said.

According to Ruhle, African American individuals with Alzheimer’s living in the Durham area receive a majority of their care from different community groups, such as churches and other places of worship. Rather than promoting through the medical system, which has been the Nasher Museum’s marketing strategy in the past, it will use grant funds to reach out to African American community groups to spread awareness about the Reflections Program. 

“We’re trying to get the word out, and that has been a challenge," Hower said. "This is a way for people with dementia to really relax and enjoy themselves because there is no pressure to remember anything. They can live in the moment with these tours, but also their caregivers get some release.”

The tours change every month so that visitors are offered new experiences and fresh topics of conversation. Hower said she has found that while on these tours, visitors stop repeating themselves and they don’t get upset and confused. 

“My grandmother really responded to music," Hower said. "She got out of her frantic loops of questions when we sang with her, so I think it’s so healthy and important for this program to reach as many people as possible.”

Experiences like those Hower has seen are the reason why the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America awarded the Nasher Museum with this grant to support services for people living in the Triangle affected by Alzheimer’s. 

“We give these grants to outstanding non-profit organizations that can provide beneficial services to individuals with dementia and their families," Silverstein said. "The Nasher Museum at Duke University does this with their Reflections program.”

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