News / Winnipeg

Art therapy program aims to help Winnipeggers living with Parkinson's

In 2006, Janice Horn was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at just 37 years old. She turned to art to express herself.

Janice Horn is the driving force behind the Shake it Up Creative Arts Group.

Jade Markus / Metro

Janice Horn is the driving force behind the Shake it Up Creative Arts Group.

A Winnipeg artist who was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s disease is helping other patients pick up their paintbrushes.  

Janice Horn was diagnosed with the disease in 2006. She was 37 years old, learning graphic design, and had four young children.

Art helped her express herself, especially in the early days of her diagnosis.

“You want people to think you’re strong. You want them to think you’re OK because they’re sad too,” Horn said.

Art was an outlet for her, which is why she approached Parkinson Canada to create the Shake it Up Creative Arts Group, so she can try to help others.

Parkinson’s is a chronic, degenerative neurological disease, and symptoms include a loss of dopamine in the brain, tremors, slowed movement, and stiff or rigid muscles.

That served as part of the inspiration for the project Shake it Up participants worked on Tuesday, using colour and imagery to represent an emotion on a mask.  

“When you have Parkinson’s, a lot of the time your face doesn’t show emotion, your mouth will just sort of go slack,” Horn said.

“So this is a way of saying ‘This is how it looks to me,’ because it doesn’t always show on your face and it can be frustrating.”  

Monique Coffell painted a bright green mask—half of it is smiling and the other half is frowning. The latter represents how she felt when she first found out she had the disease.

“I was very depressed. It was a really dark time,” she said. But since starting medication and a regular exercise regimen, she now identifies with the happy side of the mask.

“Things have changed… I never thought I’d get there.”

The benefits of art therapy for people with Parkinson’s extend beyond the ability to express emotions, said Kelly Williams, a clinical resource nurse at the Movement Disorder Clinic.

It supports participants’ use of motor movements and hand-eye coordination, and can reduce anxiety and depression and improve cognitive function.

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