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Amy Henderson Partners with OHSU for Research

Amy Henderson, who earned a master's in interdisciplinary studies with a gerontology focus, has partnered her Geezer Gallery with OHSU to study positive effects of creative processes in aging.

Excerpt from an article by Jon Bell in the July 2014 issue of The Scribe, a publication of the Medical Society of Metropolitan Portland:

As founder of The Geezer Gallery, a Portland art gallery that showcases the works of talented senior artists and offers art therapy programs, Amy Henderson has seen the difference art can make. What she hasn't really seen, however, is the scientific research that proves it.

But thanks to a new partnership with Oregon Health & Science University, Henderson and her collaborators have set out to change that and back up what she knows to be true with some hard data.

"Does art have a positive impact? Absolutely," said Henderson, who earned a master's degree with a focus in gerontology from Marylhurst University before founding The Geezer Gallery in 2010.

Last year, Henderson applied for a grant from the Oregon Tax Check-off Alzheimer's Research Fund. Mary Ruhl, a research associate at OHSU's Layton Aging & Alzheimer's Disease Center, said the fund usually awards grants of about $30,000 for new research projects.

"The kinds of things that Amy is doing are really great and her programs are wonderful for life enhancement and well-being," Ruhl said, "but they are very difficult to test. If you can be scientific about it, though, and if you can prove that it was beneficial, then maybe you can advance to another level of funding."

Through the project, which began late this spring, people were first given a battery of tests to determine a baseline on things like loneliness, depression and anxiety. They'll then undergo a six-month art intervention using The Geezer Gallery's Capturing Time and Vibrant Elders therapeutic programs. Those combine a variety of art media and methods with creative writing to stimulate imaginative thinking, problem solving and personal expression. They will be monitored during the intervention and then for three months afterward to see what impacts it had.

Tying into the research is a new exhibit at OMSI that kicked off June 6 and will run through Sept. 28. Called Mind to Hand, the exhibit looks at the intersection of art, science and creativity. It features the research being done by OHSU and The Geezer Gallery and also the work of 11 master artists, all age 60 and older.

Amy Henderson earned an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus in gerontology in 2009 and a BS in Business & Leadership in 2006.

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