Daniel Potts’ Father’s Alzheimer’s Journey Nurtures Hidden Artistic Ability

By Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN., from Alabama

“I’m proud of you, son.” These are among the sweetest words I have heard. They echo, still, when I am tempted to cave to darker exhortations—voices of fear, exhaustion, selfishness, doubt—yet choose the good, authentic, loving, courageous, truthful response, as he would have.

Lester E. Potts, Jr., my father, the best man I have known, expressed a hidden talent for painting while in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. George Parker, a retired artist who volunteered at Caring Days, the adult day program Dad attended, helped him to discover his gift. Dad’s art changed everything, giving back pride and an outlet for processing emotions and telling his story, making meaningful relationships possible, providing respite to Mother, and breathing hope into our lives.

A neurologist and only child, I struggled with self-doubt and guilt, deeply desiring to please my parents and care for them with the devotion and compassion they deserved. Medicine taught me the science of Alzheimer’s, but not day to day care giving skills. I felt like a failure, incapable of advising and supporting Mother as I desired, and of giving Dad the most dignifying care. During that dark time and afterward, I nearly succumbed to burn-out and despair. Yet his example buoyed me on. I discovered my own gift of writing, and poetry was the candle that brightened many woeful hours.
How would I honor his legacy and pay forward the gift I had been given in such a wonderful father, one who had faced his toughest battles by loving bravely and painting the world in his heart’s vibrant colors? Would he have been proud of the way I have told his story, faced my own challenges, and shared my own art born of authentic personhood brought to the surface through suffering?

After Dad’s death, my family and I founded Cognitive Dynamics Foundation to offer the expressive arts to persons living with dementia and care partners. We created a program, Bringing Art to Life, which pairs high school, college, and medical students with persons living with dementia. Students are taught the science of dementia, caregiving and communication skills, person-centered care philosophy and practice, and tools for their own self-discovery as they build relationships with their partners through weekly art therapy sessions characterized by safety, imagination, vulnerability, validation, and trust.
Witnessing lives transformed through art, empathy, compassion and relationships in the program, my own life has been changed, and many wounds experienced during Dad’s dementia, healed.

For some time, I had sensed that a book should be written about this, but had not considered myself wise or mature enough to share it until recently. I had been reminiscing for several years, compiling stories for an eventual book which finally came together in 2021, and was published by Resource Publications, a division of Wipf and Stock, in June of last year.

My goals in writing Bringing Art to Life were to tell of Dad’s life, art, and our family’s journey with him through Alzheimer’s, to tout the difference Caring Days made in his life, to write openly of my own struggles through stories and poetry (which often can speak truth that cannot be expressed in other ways), to share our philosophy of care giving and research showing its empathy-promoting, stigma-reducing impact on students, and to honor our incredible participants, both persons living with dementia, care partners, and students, and the impact they have had on me. Lastly, I wanted to share the spiritual transformation that has occurred in my life through these experiences and relationships.

In publishing Bringing Art to Life, I share the hope that other AlzAuthors have shared, to diminish stigma through story-telling and art, and to offer beauty and light for living well in dementia’s long days…
And again, to hear him say, “I’m proud of you.”

About the Author

Daniel C. Potts, MD, FAAN, is a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and a neurologist, author, educator, and champion of those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and their care partners. Inspired by his father’s transformation from saw miller to watercolor artist in the throes of dementia through person-centered care and the expressive arts, Dr. Potts seeks to make these therapies more widely available through his foundation, Cognitive Dynamics.

Links to Dr. Potts

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danielcpotts/

WordPress Blog: https://danielcpotts.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/danielcpotts

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dcpottsmd/?__coig_restricted=1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/daniel.potts.92372/

Cognitive Dynamics Website: https://www.cognitivedynamics.org/

Cognitive Dynamics Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cognitive-Dynamics-Foundation-162239647129910/

Cognitive Dynamics Twitter: https://mobile.twitter.com/cogdynamics

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