Making Sense of Alzheimer’s is a creative space for people to understand the past, present and future of Alzheimer’s disease. It is an evolving forum, a gallery of ideas, a museum without walls.

Fractured Portrait

By Shannon Simcox


As Ria Hills visited her mother each day in the nursing home, she began to notice the other dementia residents fade away, as if in chunks.

But as she looked closer, she realized that the image of the person was changed, but not lost.

This sentiment shines through in “Fractured.” When Ria first sat down to paint a portrait of Marge, another resident, her intent was to paint the entire face.

“That kind of took on a life of its own when I was working on it, which is not my normal process,” Ria said. “When I started working toward the bottom of the face, I realized, there was so much about this woman that I didn’t know. And the blocks seemed like a good idea.

“It’s fascinating that although the ‘blocks’ of their lives may be misplaced or missing, that each person, depending on the severity of the illness, maintains much of his/her personality.”

This was the case with Marge and Hills’ mother, Johanna, who passed away in November 2014.

Marge, a social creature, often interacted with Johanna and Ria, telling stories that rarely made sense, Ria said. But she often spoke clearly of her love of her ring, a gift from her husband, Ria believes.

Ria captured a photo of Marge one day, as her hand was outstretched displaying the beloved ring, and worked from the photo to create the painting.

“The position she was sitting in just appealed to me,” Ria said.

To create the portrait, Ria brought the photo into Photoshop to overlay a graph and split the photo into blocks. From there, she worked in each individual block using acrylics. For the colors of each block, she used those that were within the photo and exaggerated the intensity in addition to some complementary colors that otherwise appealed to her.

The painting was sold privately in 2011.

“My hope is that people who have family members who have been recently diagnosed will learn more about the effects of the illness and discover that the person who they knew still remains,” Ria said. “That they can look beyond the missing blocks.”

Ria Hills, of Uxbridge Mass., is a self-taught painter working mostly in pastels. You can find her work on her website,

Not Alone

“Not Alone” was never meant to be made public when Gardner wrote it, but a powerful response from his mother encouraged Gardner to publish a formal music video to YouTube.

Portraits of Caregivers

Photographer Raymond W. Holman, Jr. captures the sometimes forgotten figures in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease dementia.

IOM Report on Cognitive Aging

The IOM Report on Cognitive Aging

Art of the Mind: Faye Hall Link
Art of the Mind

Faye Hall’s mother left notes for the trespassers stealing her food and moving her possessions, forgetting that these were her own actions. The artist used the notes as inspiration and as a medium in a portrait of her mother.

Beyond the Face of Alzheimer’s

“Beyond the Face of Alzheimer’s" - an intimate portrait of Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

I Am Life

Richard Rubin presents "I Am Life: Humanity In Advanced Dementia"


A daughter's honest graphic memoir of her mother's descent into dementia.

Building a Better Password

As people age, it can become even harder to remember the countless passwords used in daily life.

The Alzheimer Conundrum: Entanglements of Dementia and Aging

Listen to Jason Karlawish's review of Margaret Lock's book "The Alzheimer Conundrum."

Millennials Take Action: Designing to Preserve Dignity for Persons with Dementia

Creative young adults design innovations aimed at improving quality of life of patients and caregivers.

Art of the Mind: Greg Dunn Link

Greg Dunn spent years studying the human brain, only to spend countless additional hours trying to depict it in his art. Yet the neuroscientist-turned-artist says he is humbled by how much more complex the brain is than he could ever hope to show.

The Beginning Stages of Goodbye

Artist Alexandria Levin reflects on a cross-country train trip she took to help her mother, who has dementia, move into the final stages of her life.

Still We Dance: Artist Charles M. Williams
Slideshow and Video

Charles M. Williams combines his art with “the possibility of the ‘long good-bye’ that is Alzheimer’s.”

Should We Still Read ‘Still Alice’?

Jason Karlawish,MD explains why 'Still Alice' is not the right story to help us understand Alzheimer’s disease.

Making Sense of Alzheimer’s … A Student’s Perspective

A college student asks questions about Alzheimer’s disease to try and understand the complexity of the disease.

Hilarity for Charity Joins Fight Against Alzheimer’s Disease

Hilarity for Charity joins fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

Laughing with Dugald

Dramatists know the value of comic relief in the tragedy of life. Perhaps one man's own sense of humor is helping him to live with Alzheimer's.

History of Alzheimer’s Research

A walk through important dates in Alzheimer's disease research history.