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A Stroke of Therapeutic Creativity

Stroke survivors with an appreciation for music, painting, and theater recover better in comparison to those who do not.

A Stroke of Therapeutic Creativity

Picture this: art therapy can help survivors treat physical, cognitive, and neurological issues, as well as improve mental wellbeing ─ all of which are commonly impaired as a result of stroke, a cardiovascular event in which a blockage or bleed deprives brain cells of oxygen and blood flow.

Research, presented at a cardiovascular conference, found that patients who reported liking art had an easier time walking, were more energetic and less depressed, and felt happier and less anxious. Plus, their memory and communication skills fared better. Another study, from University College London, found that the same parts of the brain are stimulated when one looks at art as when one is in love, both releasing a chemical dopamine promoting feelings of affection and desire.

Art therapy ─ including painting, sketching, drawing, and sculpture─ is now considered an effective rehabilitative method to aid physical and emotional health. As with physical therapy, repetitive exercise (i.e. painting strokes) of weakened muscles can help stroke survivors gain elasticity, strength, and balance. For mental wellbeing, art therapy boosts creative expression, ignites a calming effect, and can relieve stress. For example, picture the release of pounding clay. Stroke patients with aphasia, a language impairment, may especially feel drawn to the creative expression of art, though art therapy can lead to increased visual and/or verbal communication for all survivors.

“Art engages both sides of the brain to combine motion with thought,” says Valerie Greene, a stroke survivor and founder of Global Stroke Resource, also known as Bcenter, a Central Florida based non-profit providing resources, hope, and direction. The functions of the left side of the brain include communication, repetition, and detail; the right side controls imagery, memory, and creativity. “Color therapy was a primary focus for my personal art therapy. Specific colors evoke emotion; for instance, blue is calming and yellow stimulates happiness.”

Bcenter’s Hive of Hope, a monthly social and support group, recently held an art therapy session at the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, which showcases acclaimed works including pieces created by Polasek following his debilitating stroke. Some of Bcenter’s stroke participants expressed that the newfound hobby inspired a willingness to try new therapies and embrace relaxing or creative outlets.

Not sure if you’re a budding artist? Fade into art appreciation by exploring local galleries, such as Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Maitland Art & History Center, or Mennello Museum. Then, doodle or stretch while visiting beautiful sites, like Mead Gardens or the West Orange Trail. Finally, brighten your horizons by taking a single or ongoing class at Crealdé School of Art or Painting with a Twist. To learn more about color therapy, visit Bcenter.com/bwell.

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