Painting Primed to Help Multiple Sclerosis Patients

Human beings have long been fascinated with art. What stories does it tell, and what can we learn about ourselves from the things we create? Now, some doctors are investigating the therapeutic qualities of art. Both as part of the environment and as a part of treatment, patients are encountering art in doctors’ offices. Dr. Brooke Allen is a neurologist at Roaring Fork Neurology in Colorado investing in this idea. David Kline, a patient living with multiple sclerosis, shares his experiences with this new practice. Keep reading to learn more, or follow the original story here for more information.

What is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition affecting the brain’s communication with the rest of the body. In cases of MS, a person’s immune system attacks the protective covering of nerve cells known as myelin. When myelin is damaged or destroyed, the transmission of messages from the brain to the rest of the body becomes slowed or blocked entirely.

Multiple sclerosis may affect any and all parts of the body. Most commonly it affects the extremities, muscles, and eyes. Initial symptoms of MS typically appear between the ages of 20 and 40. Multiple sclerosis is characterized by weakness, numbness, loss of speech, and loss of bladder control. Though there is no treatment for multiple sclerosis, it is possible to treat the various symptoms of the condition.

Brainwaves

David Kline is a frequent visitor to Dr. Allen’s office. His multiple sclerosis necessitates him coming in at least once each week for an infusion. Each visits lasts several hours. David spends a lot of it waiting. One of the things David notices often is a large painting on the wall. It’s got a look that reminds the viewer of the ocean during a storm. The wavelike shapes are a dark blue while white clouds gather above. David describes the painting as comforting. It’s an open, relaxing environment.

The painting was created by Erin Rigney for Dr. Allen. It’s part of a series called “Brainwaves” which imitate the movements of neural activity on paper. The artists describes the idea behind the painting as an attempt to capture the experience of being in the clinic. There’s a sort of unsettled quality at first that flows into comfort. Rigney says its like being held.

Rigney says she knows what this experience is like because she has been a patient at Dr. Allen’s clinic. When Allen moved into a new office she wanted to avoid the sense of sterility that comes with so many hospitals. She says that the soothing quality of the art work actually makes her job easier.

Art in Action

Allen stand behind the notion that art is powerful. There’s been research, she says, that shows creating art is good for the brain. Art appears to be effective for reducing stress, decreasing likelihood of depression, and creates a greater sense of well-being for patients with chronic conditions.

Patient’s of Dr. Allen have the opportunity to experience these benefits first hand. Part of their therapies may include visual journaling or art classes. Erin Rigney even assists in teaching some of them. Another benefit of the art is that it has a physical component. It’s a multisensory approach to medicine. Allen describes this approach as critical. When treating patients with chronic conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, this active element of treatment can be very helpful.


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