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The Art of Healing

Smart Moves

Marianne B. Talbot, founder of the Arlington-based National Rehabilitation and Rediscovery Foundation, hopes to add to this body of knowledge with a study of her dance and movement program. She was recently awarded a three-year grant by the state-funded Commonwealth Neuro-Trauma Initiative. She will work with researchers at Virginia Tech to study the benefits of dance and movement for people with brain injury.

"It's our responsibility to document the benefits and the efficacy of what we're doing in order to have respect as an adjunct therapy," she said.

From left, patients Andree Polley, 27, and Denise Simms, 30, do beadwork with artist Deoborah Gudelsky at Georgetown University Hospital's Lomardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. (Andrea Bruce Woodall - The Washington Post)

But people such as Radhika Rishi -- who dances in a troupe that Talbot created for people with brain injuries -- don't need research to convince them that creative expression is healing.

"Because of dance, I have been able to reduce a lot of my medication," she said. In fact, Rishi -- a car crash left her with a brain injury, spinal problems, paralysis, seizures, hearing loss and blindness -- no longer needs a wheelchair and uses a cane only on occasion. She can pull a shirt on over her head, button her clothes and carry a plate of food.

She attributes this remarkable progress to her four years in the dance program.

"The more you do it, the more your brain remembers how to do these things," she said. "It's allowed my body over time to remember how to reconnect itself to move again and function properly."

Others say that the arts cannot be measured in the same way you test a new prescription drug.

"Research that involves the patient is often intrusive and cuts against the very thing we are trying to do when we bring art to the hospital," said Herbert of the Creative Center. "We are giving the patient a choice, one of the few things they can say no to. We're using the patient's imagination and giving them a freedom of expression."

Oncologist Warren points to one of his former patients, Carol Bitner, who now volunteers her weaving talents at Lombardi.

"It's very, very hard to quantitate how much benefit is derived from Carol Bitner sitting in the lobby, quietly weaving and talking to someone about what it means to her," Warren said.

"I can't measure how much better it makes the staff feel to hear beautiful music playing. Do I feel 50 percent better?

"I don't know," he said, "but I feel better." •

Beth Baker has written for the Health section about aging and assisted living.

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