​​For more than 15 years in Southern California, Arnold Bresky, MD, has been forging the way in dementia research and successfully treating patients, some of them well into their nineties. As an integrative physician, he believes that pills and surgery are necessary but are not sufficient.
Moreover, he believes in Western medicine, but some of his prescriptions might sound a bit unusual. They include laughter, music, art, dancing, random acts of kindness, and even knitting.
 Arnold Bresky, MD
His scientific, evidence-based, and durable whole-person-centered care began in Southern California where he treats thousands of older adults who suffer from various forms of dementia. “I marry hope to science,” said Bresky, 71.
 “My methods are preventive in nature and are designed to delay Alzheimer’s disease, which is our national epidemic, and slow the process of cognitive decline through behavior modification.”  

Connecting Both Sides Of The Brain

Bresky believes that depression and a lack of meaning and purpose in life are huge factors in cognitive decline. It was this belief that inspired the Hands of Kindness program, which he started within an Alzheimer’s assisted living facility in Pasadena, Calif. He asked his patients to knit blankets for the homeless that would be distributed by the local fire department personnel.
The results even surprised Bresky.
The goal of Hands of Kindness is to deliver lovingly handmade knitted or crocheted items by residents of senior living communities to charitable organizations. In the process, connections are made between the seniors’ skills and the recipient adults and children.
According to the organization’s website, “this humanitarian project will include assistance and cherished moments of giving. It can incur positive change in people as they work together and create fulfilling lives.”
“Research has shown that working with numbers and patterns can improve cognition,” says Bresky. “The numbers are on the left side of your brain, the patterns are on the right side. What I’m doing is connecting the two sides. It was like my patients were slowly waking up and recognizing where they were. They began smiling more often and laughing. That’s powerful medicine.”
There are now two chapters of Hands of Kindness, one in Southern California and one in the Fresno area. Bresky hopes that senior facilities across the nation will promote new chapters, which he believes will bring community awareness to the plight of dementia sufferers while easing their symptoms and improving their quality of life by erasing invisibility. 

Purpose And Pride

Judi Magarian-Gold heads up the Central Valley chapter of Hands of Kindness. “We started with four assisted living groups in November of 2008,” she says. “Now we have 11.”
Magarian-Gold’s own mother suffered from dementia but continued to participate in needle crafts. “She was able to remember the motor skills involved and was quick to fix mistakes,” she says.
Bresky says that science has proven that having purpose in life and performing simple acts of kindness can help prevent cognitive decline in older adults and significantly delay the devastating signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s. “It’s also an outreach to the community,” he says.
“The needy and sick get handmade caps and blankets, and the community becomes more aware of those who suffer with dementia.”
Magarian-Gold says the program encourages the residents to participate, and while they knit, crochet, and make blankets, they’re also socializing with one another, which, in itself, fosters self-confidence.
The project also gives the participants a sense of purpose and pride. “Many of them tell me how good it makes them feel to help others,” she says. “The recipients also feel great to receive a handmade item.”
Karen Everett Watson is a freelance journalist and a certified gerontologist through her company Legacy Letters. She facilitates reminiscence sessions at local assisted living facilities and is also a regular blogger for Cisco & Co., a mature market advertising firm. She may be reached at Watson@softcom.net.