The sight of his painting reproduced on a giant scale on the billboards at the entrance to the Creativity and Parkinson’s exhibition and on the front cover of the exhibition catalogue when I arrived to give my presentation was a defining moment on our journey with Parkinson’s.
The Honorary Chair of the Creativity and Parkinson’s Committee for the congress was Oliver Sacks. In the introduction to a catalogue for the exhibition, he wrote that when he was studying neurology in the early 1960s, before the drug Levadopa (L-dopa) became available to treat people with Parkinson’s, he saw an artist with very severe Parkinsonism who said he could still paint large canvases.
'I was incredulous [wrote Sacks]. He could hardly move – but he invited me to his ranch, to see for himself. He was brought in his wheelchair to a blank canvas, and a paintbrush was put in his hand, he was completely motionless, and I could not imagine how he would proceed, but suddenly, with a wide sweeping movement, he made his first brushstroke, and from then on completed a large and exuberant painting without the least sign of his parkinsonism … When he was finished, he sank back in his chair and became almost completely motionless again.
I have seen such effects – whether with art, music, dance or performance, over and over again since. The therapeutic power of art is temporary … But knowing that they can be liberated in this way and in doing so, reclaim, for a while, their healthy selves, is profoundly encouraging and therapeutic for patients with parkinsonism.
Moreover, I suspect…that the ability to turn creative activity may, perhaps, slow the advance of the disease. And even if it does not, it can activate the patient, allowing him to fight and sometimes conquer it for years on end.’
Oliver Sacks, Creativity and Parkinson’s, World Parkinson Congress Journal, February 22-26, 2006, p1
As I write [April 2017], I look back over 30 years of living with Parkinson’s disease. Bob has been in care for 15 years, wheelchair-bound for most of that time. He needs two people and a lifting machine to transfer him, He can’t talk and needs help with eating and drinking. But he can still paint.
From the beginning, Bob described Painting with Parkinsons as a ‘can do’ activity when most other things have been taken away. This story shows that Oliver Sacks knew what he was talking about.
(Footnote – Bob Tingey died on 17 November 2017. He had been a member of Painting with Parkinsons for 19 years and was painting until ten days before he died. Apart from that he could not move at all without help.)"
Research shows that in addition to medications, there are some activities that ease motor symptoms and improve the quality of life of those diagnosed with Parkinson's.
Through studies Dr Julie H. Carter, Professor of Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University and Associate Director at the OHSU Parkinson Centre of Oregon, states that an individual can have some control over the symptoms of Parkinson's by teaching the brain to change and adapt to new circumstances, an ability called neuroplasticity.
Scientific evidence now suggests that certain activities - exercise, social connectedness and creativity - may not only be therapeutic for Parkinson's symptoms, but may actually change the brain and allow it to form new pathways of communication among brain cells.
This research builds on that of Professor Lakke, a Dutch neurologist who found that creativity or originality of artists who developed Parkinson's was not impoverished, and in fact artists remained amazingly productive despite considerable and limiting motor fluctuations. Professor Lakke suggested that autocuing, or using clues and triggers to initiate activity, might be circumventing the impaired motor programmes. This concept is being explored in depth by the Movement Disorder Clinic in Melbourne, Australia and the Conductive Education Centre in Birmingham, UK.
The Tingey Painting with Parkinsons program Nancy Tingey 2016 supports the findings of these areas of research.
Nancy Tingey, excerpt from 'Magic Happens - The story of Painting with Parkinsons'
"In 2006 I was invited to present a paper at the international First World Parkinson Congress in Washington DC, hosted by the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation USA. A highlight of the conference program was a museum quality exhibition of art work created by people living with Parkinson’s, selected from 14 countries across the world and presented as part of the Congress’s Creativity and Parkinson’s program. The American committee responsible for the Creativity and Parkinson’s program chose my husband Bob’s work Antarctic Waters to advertise the exhibition.