The motivation for this new body of works on paper titled “ARCHIDEM” (“Architecture of Dementia”) comes from my journey working with my father through Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
Creating and making the drawings has been a healing process. The work channeled and balanced my mental energy through challenging times and as there is magic in stimulating several senses to recover brain functions, the same goes for strengthening an aesthetic direction. While painting greens I listened to classical Indian music, delving into blues I switched to traditional Iranian music, then resonated reds with Spanish guitar.
Over the course of three years caring for my father, I have done extensive research in neuroplasticity. Against all conventional preconceived ideas and dark prognostics, through much hard work, my father was able to recover a good level of autonomy.
The sale of these drawings will fund the compilation of my years of research and notes into a well-documented narrative to share our story of recovery and hopefully inspire families, caretakers and institutions.
In 2013, at the age of 67, my father was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Later that year he slipped on his kitchen floor and fractured his femur. The general anesthesia during the surgery propelled my father to an advanced cognitive decline. I flew from Brooklyn to his side in the South west of France and found him isolated in a hospital room restrained to his chair, unattended. He had lost considerable muscle mass and no longer understood the nature of objects around him. He could not drink or eat on his own. I quickly realized that in the absence of adequate stimulation my father’s health would continue deteriorating to a life threatening degree.
Before my father’s accident I had already read extensively about the mind-body relationship in the fields of neuroscience, cognitive science, biology and psychology. One of the numerous stories that inspired the frame of mind with which I cared for him I found in “The Brain That Changes Itself” by Norman Doidge.
Paul Bach-y-Rita, a genius in neuroplasticity known for his work in sensory substitution, and his brother George a brilliant psychiatrist, helped their father Pedro recover a normal life after a stroke that paralyzed half of his body and damaged his ability to speak. Their logic was simple: teaching their father how to walk and speak again as if he was someone new to walking and speaking. Although Pedro might have remembered that he knew how to walk, he had lost the related functions and needed to learn again with the brain-body available to him post stroke.
The brothers trained their father through baby steps, literally. He went from learning how to crawl (they protected his elbows and knees with pads) to recovering balance on his two feet before he was able to walk again. He lived another ten happy years going on long hikes before another stroke finally took him.
I thought if Paul and George Bach-y-Rita could do it, then I could do it too. Although I was well aware that dementia would be a more complicated task since it is not solely a “mechanical issue” but rather a complex process where the mind sabotages itself. Regardless, my energy, enthusiasm and love were strong so I started going back and forth between New York and the South West of France to care for my father.
Following the idea that he had to relearn everything, I went on to re-teach him everything with patience and stubbornness. After five trips over the course of nine months, culminating with a month long spent together in the summer of 2014 everyday from breakfast to bed time so I could oversee every single daily task, my father recovered all basic skills like eating, showering, shaving, dressing, swimming and placing a phone call all on his own.