At the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, artists are working with Alzheimer’s patients and their families to translate their experience into art.

Mark Gilbert is an artist-in-residence at the hospital's memory clinic. He uses his art to help doctors understand and treat Alzheimer’s disease.

“The interactions and the discussions that happen between the artist and the participants – the patient, the partner-in-care – can also raise issues. These conversations, the images, the interviews the participants will give as well, all these things can be analyzed,” says Gilbert.

Gilbert says he meets with the patients, before he starts sketching, in order to form a relationship with them.

The entire process takes about a year and, over that time, Gilbert says he becomes close with the patient and their family.

“Even the silence that permeates the process quite a lot is something to be looked at, something that's not an empty void, those silences are still incredibly powerful, there's still a great deal of communication.”

Geriatrician Dr. Kenneth Rockwood says artwork helps his colleagues at the clinic think differently about the disease.

“One of the things we've found over the years is there's a real role for an artist to show us something new, something that we don't know,” says Rockwood. “Then we try and gage, we the scientific community, we try and engage in understanding what the artist has shown us.”

Dr. Rockwood says he's hopeful this practice will become a form of treatment. He says the art helps him analyze each patient on an emotional level.

“We've been able to think about what brain systems, what brain chemical systems must be involved and how they work based on the response from a particular type of treatment,” says Rockwood. “If you come to a clinic where the art on the walls is about the problem that you're there with then I think it's a way to get a message that we really care what's going on.”