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UAMS provides art therapy for Parkinson's patients

Thanks to a donation to the UAMS Parkinson's disease fund, the hospital partnered with Arts Integration Services to provide free art therapy.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Studies have shown how art is beneficial for many reasons and it goes beyond the finishing product.

This holds true for what paint and brush can do for people living with Parkinson's disease. 

Now, UAMS is giving patients a free opportunity to explore this therapy.

As chalk and paint cover the tables at St. Michael's Episcopal Church on a Tuesday morning, painter and teacher Elly Bates said much more is happening than the contact between the pencil and paper.

"I think it touches a part of the brain that we don't access all the time," she said.

Behind the smiles on their faces, these people aren't just connecting with what they're drawing, but they're also connecting on shared experiences, Suzanne Dhall said.

"I think it will help calm their nerves and help being around other patients that have Parkinson's," she said.

Thanks to a donation to the UAMS Parkinson's Disease Fund, the hospital partnered with Arts Integration Services, to provide free art therapy classes to Parkinson's patients. 

An idea that Dhall, UAMS Department of Neurology Health Educator, thought of after she saw first-hand how it helped her father-in-law with this disease.

"He had significant tremor, and he just fell in love with art, and he took to it and he was able to do magnificent artwork," she said.

Magnificent artwork that is now displayed on the poster for this class. 

Just like it did with Dhall's father-in-law, studies have shown that painting or drawing can help improve motor skills, and control tremors.

"Especially with Parkinson's, if their body and the way their movements are it changes, right, and so really showing them art that maybe we'll work with them," Bates said.

With no experience needed, she wants this class to be something that's approachable for anyone. 

Bates said she uses things like music and light to help them connect with, not only what's on their paper and those around them, but themselves.

"Showing lots of different experiences, there might be something that they're able to, like really connect with, and that kind of speaks to them as a person that maybe they didn't otherwise," she said.

While the masterpiece is far from over, Dhall hopes in the future they can bring two generations together through art.

"I'd like to combine it with school-aged children and this demographic, so they can all learn from each other," she said.

The next session is in El Dorado on Tuesday, May 17. The next two classes will be back in Little Rock at St. Michael's on Tuesday, June 21, and Tuesday, July 19 from 9:30 a.m. to noon. 

All classes also have a virtual component to them. Registration is required.

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