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Monday, March 27, 2017

Experts gauge if art and other creative pursuits can keep Parkinson's disease under check

By Snigdha Hasan | Posted 27-Mar-2017

An 81-year-old artist is currently exhibiting his oeuvre, much of which was completed after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's. Experts gauge if art and other creative pursuits can keep the condition under check

Vishwanath R Kantak at the ongoing exhibition. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Over 35 canvases of geometric patterns, woven with spiritual motifs, adorn the walls of Gallery no 2 at the Jehangir Art Gallery. A massive metallic sculpture of a falcon, at the centre of the space, bears testimony to the efforts gone into detailing its intricate plumage. "Here, the artist visualises the falcon as a symbol of rising above a situation…" reads the accompanying note.
Vishwanath R Kantak, 81, completed this sculpture in 1994. Little did he realise that years later, he would come to exemplify this life lesson - Kantak was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2009. "I was at a Ramakrishna Mission ashram in the US, where I had been living since 2000, when a doctor and a fellow follower suggested that I get myself checked," recalls Kantak. The doctor's fear was not unfounded and Kantak had to return to Mumbai as medical expenses in the US were very high. Eight years on, he is living his dream - of exhibiting his work at an iconic art gallery. We have to pull our chair close to his to listen in as he speaks. He walks with a slight stoop and his right hand quivers often. But the artworks that surround us belie the typical symptoms of a condition that many believe dictates all terms when it sets in.

Rising above Parkinson's
Giving up his passion was simply ruled out for Kantak, an alumnus of Sir JJ School of Art. He moved to a home for senior citizens in New Panvel after his return to Mumbai and has been living there since.

How does he cope with tremors that inevitably are a part of Parkinson's? "I practise meditation, which helps me concentrate on keeping my brush steady. Being spiritually inclined has also helped me," shares Kantak, who also reads inspiring books. Over the years, the artist has simplified his style of painting, and perhaps, recreating the intricate falcon may not be possible, but that's only a minor hiccup in the grand scheme of things.

Creativity, a combatant
"Many people, on getting diagnosed with Parkinson's, give up their hobbies. But when we urge them to get back to a creative pursuit or take up something new, the initial reluctance soon gives way to a sense of fulfilment," says Dr Maria Barretto, CEO, Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorder Society (PDMDS). Founded in 2001 by neuro physician Dr Bhimsen Singhal, the Mumbai-based organisation creates awareness about the condition and acts as a platform for sufferers and their caregivers to bond with each other through its various activities and outreach programmes.

A dance therapy session in progress

"Art and craft therapy and dance movement therapy allow creative expression and provide an outlet for emotions," says Dr Barretto, adding that depression is common among Parkinson's sufferers. "When they do something enjoyable, it doesn't seem like an exercise. Holding a brush helps with arm coordination. Picking up colours and colouring within lines is helpful for cognitive reasons. Learning new things stimulates the brain, too," explains Nicole D'Souza, a physiotherapist with PDMDS.
The organisation believes in the dictum "I may have Parkinson's but Parkinson's will not have me," and Kantak with his willpower has proved it right.
Being the Caregiver -Mugdha Nene

Dr Maria Barretto
Mugdha Nene's father-in-law was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2005. "Ever since the PDMDS started a group in Borivali, he has been an active member," says Nene. "Over the years, I have seen a marked difference in him. The dance mudras have helped him concentrate better. His posture and physical coordination have improved, too."
Nicole D'Souza
Dance therapy elevates the mood and helps ease the stiffness in joints. "As there are steps to remember, it helps keep the memory sharp also," shares Tejali Kunte, clinical psychologist and dance movement therapist. "PET scans following dance sessions showed release of endorphins that are associated with happiness," she adds.
Tejali Kunte

Parkinson's and Alzheimer's
Though both the conditions are neurodegenerative and begin late in life, they are markedly different.

Parkinson's is a movement disorder that may result in dementia. Alzheimer's is a memory disorder. Early Parkinson's symptoms include resting tremors and slow movements, while Alzheimer's begins with worsening of memory.

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