Save Your Brain

These days it’s all about prevention.  Today we have an incredible wealth of information and new technologies at our disposal that allow us to see how our lifestyle influences everything about us. For those of us who usually track clay dust around and spend more time in a clay-caked apron than in casual clothes, our lifestyle may have a big plus.
Creativity is being investigated as a means of prevention for something that is a terrifying reality for an estimated 5.3 million older adults, Alzheimer’s disease. Recent research published in the American Academy of Neurology Journal discovered that people who engaged in artistic activities in both middle and old age were 73% less likely to have memory and thinking problems, such as mild cognitive impairment, that lead to dementia. The study also revealed that people engaged in craft-based activities such as sewing, woodworking and ceramics in midlife and old age, are 45% less likely to encounter cognitive issues.*

What an amazing thought – that we can prevent the first stages of memory loss through something as simple as working with clay.  For myself, Alzheimer’s is the scary bump in the night, something I try to shove thoughts of into the deepest corners of my mind. Its a disease we are learning about each and every day but remains for the most part an illness without a clear cause or cure.

“For a person with Alzheimer’s, their memory appears to be erasing from the present back through time.  If you live long enough you erase back to infancy without being able to talk, walk or feed yourself.  Fortunately and unfortunately, my mother lived that long, ” shares Earlene Cox, a Clay Art Center artist with a unique journey that brought her to clay. “It was the process of watching someone erase themselves. One month she knew me, the next she didn’t. This was twelve years of watching the woman I knew as my mother disappear.  Coming off that and looking at her, I realized I am so much like her, that this could also be my journey.”

Earlene took an interesting and untested next step in prevention.  “It’s nothing scientific, I used what I knew about the brain.  We use such a small portion of our brain and there is such potential. If this disease really erases us, I thought, I’m going to give it more to erase! If I have parts of my brain I never use I will use them now.  As an international tax attorney I have always been very left-brained.  So I thought, lets do something right-brained where creativity is housed. S o I started off writing a book of poems, “Faces and Places from Within my Heart”, it started there.  I performed a little of it and then finished and thought, now what?  I was talking to one of my doctors and this journey excited him.  He thought it was a great idea.  He said, “It is so simple, and the worse thing that can happen is that it makes you smarter.”  Earlene’s doctor suggested she take it further by using her non-dominant hand for daily tasks like writing and eating.  Then one day she walked into a local rec center and saw a clay class in action, and her new path began.

“I walked in and they gave me some clay.  It fit perfectly with what I had been doing.  You cannot sculpt the human body without using both hands equally.  When sculpting the left side of the face you have to use your left hand and vice versa.”

Earlene has since become an accomplished ceramicist and member of Clay Art Center.  As her journey to prevent the onslaught of Alzheimer’s continues she has also began to educate others about the stark reality of the disease.  “African Americans have Alzheimer’s two times the rate it appears in other populations.  Its really scary.  What I am finding is that people are very uneducated about Alzheimer’s and very frightened.” While Earlene strives to spread the creative word about Alzheimer’s and dementia, we here at Clay Art Center are also taking up the mantle.  

Through funding from The Wyman Foundation and in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association we have offered free clay workshops to those with early stage Alzheimer’s and their caregivers since 2011. It is a time to relax and let go for the caregivers while those they love are challenged to try new things and are free from the resulting frustration and stress of the disease.

In 2016, thanks to support from an anonymous donor, we will continue to offer monthly workshops from March – September at the Port Chester Nursing and Rehabilitation Center where staff reports that the clay workshops help keep some of their more rambunctious clients focused and engaged.

Help us spread the word about the positive effects of creativity and the arts, and make today the day you play with some clay and save your brain!

Earlene Hardie Cox is a lawyer and a former executive with the IBM Corporation. She is a member of both the New York State and the American Bar Association. The National Eagle Leadership Institute, Women Who Mean Business, The National Association of Negro Business and Professional Clubs and the National Council of Negro Women have honored her.

She is currently a member of the Clay Art Center Board of Directors serving on the Finance Committee.   In 2005, Earlene began sculpting and has spent the last 2 years studying at the Clay Art Center where she has exhibited in the Rising Stars exhibit. In addition to creating art, she is an avid art collector. Her other interests include traveling, tennis, golf, reading, and gardening.

*Sourced from an article by Ashley strickland on