Friday, March 4, 2011

Snowdrops, Labyrinths and their effects on Alzheimer's

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The other day I was talking about snowdrops and their link to the treatment of Alzheimer's. The little snowdrop has been linked to an important medicine that could help in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Galantamine, a medicine used today to treat Alzheimer's disease, occurs naturally in several members of the amaryllis family (snowdrop; narcissus; daffodil). This important medicine was first discovered in the innocent Snowdrop. 


Talking about this made me think of the living labyrinth in my parents' garden at Hagal Farm down in West Cork. (You may remember my post about this labyrinth last year.)

Labyrinth at Hagal Farm
 So why did snowdrops make me think of labyrinths, you ask?

More and more hospitals and wellness centres are using labyrinths in the treatment and care of Alzheimer's sufferers. The beauty of a labyrinth (often confused with a maze, which has many paths and dead ends) is that a labyrinth is a single winding path that leads from the entrance to the centre and back out again. All labyrinths are unicursal, meaning they only have one path, which makes them a perfect place for an Alzheimer sufferer to ‘get lost in’. (for more information about labyrinths, check out my previous post about them

Labyrinth at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, Illinois

With Alzheimer’s, the mind begins to short circuit. Performing tasks that once were as natural as breathing becomes a source of frustration. Confusion begins to crush hope. The caregivers for early- to mid-stage Alzheimer's residents know that these misfires aren't going to go away.
Back at home in West Cork a dear friend of our family has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for a number of years now, so I can begin to understand the heart wrenching, problems and difficulties of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and the family and carers who lovingly look after them. It also gives me huge respect for those who live with Alzheimer's, as well as for their family and carers.

While reading up about this subject I came across a very interesting blog by a man called Chuck Donofrio. Chuck’s blog is called ‘Early onset Alzheimer’s Adventure
Chuck suffers from Alzheimer’s but as he states on his blog ‘Early onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis doesn't stop this "sufferer" from blogging about his day to day observations and feelings.
In one of his posts he writes the following about wanting a labyrinth “One of the most profound meditative experiences available to the lay person, or any other soul desiring a respite from the banality and meaninglessness of our daily round, can be found as near as the closest Labyrinth. The ancient practice of walking the "maze" has captured many a soul, most probably because the physical action of its twists and turns, coinciding with the step and breath of the human in motion, excites, even as it calms.”

The spiritual discipline of the labyrinth involves a "walking meditation" and is a metaphor for the soul's spiritual journey. It quiets the mind and opens the soul to a sense of wholeness and wellness. The tradition of labyrinth walks was recovered in the United States in the early '90s at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and, in recent years, the labyrinth has come to be recognized as an instrument of holistic healing. The Rev. Canon Lauren Artress of Grace Cathedral has used labyrinth walks with groups of children with ADD/ADHD (attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactive disorder) and has discovered that it helps focus and quiet them in a way that cognitive therapies fail to do.

Since many of the labyrinth projects are still new, they haven't completed any long-term studies. But many places have noticed that this ritual provides benefits such as short-term calming, relaxation, and relief from agitation and anxiety in otherwise fragmented lives. The restorative and calming value of the walk can last from two to three hours, or longer.

I also read of another touching story of a couple that walked, hand in hand, through the labyrinth almost daily.  He was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and she was struggling with the confinement, stress, and isolation of being a caregiver.  She noticed that after a few weeks of their routine, he began to regain small skills. 

Another labyrinth that is very appropriate to mention here is this one made from seasonal bulbs (many of them from the amaryllis family that make Galantamine) at Cornell University, New York. I also like the idea of how at the end of the flowering season it just turns back to a lawn, only to reappear the following year.

Bulb Labyrinth Cornell University

See more about this labyrinth here.
Bulb Labyrinth Cornell University

Labyrinths are a fantastic place for anyone to go and relax and I highly recommend finding one and trying it out for yourself. To help you find the closest one to you check out the global labyrinth locator

For a list of Labyrinths at Hospitals, Health Care Facilities, Spas and Wellness Centers go to



  1. We have 33 rose bushes which I water by hand. From the tank to each bush and back, 33 times. Not so structured and formal as a labyrinth, and yet it is, my labyrinth that I walk once a week. More often in summer's heat.

  2. Your posts are always so interesting - thanks for sharing!

  3. A very interesting post. Alzheimers has touched our family personally, and at least for me, watching a loved one transition into end-stage Alzheimers was both heart wrenching, and a relief. The frustration patients experience in the earlier stages subsides toward the end, which is the relief, but when they no longer recognize family members, it can be agonizing. The labyrinths you've shown here are beautiful. I love the bulb labyrinth, and the idea of being surprised again each spring when it returns. I'd never really thought about how they differ from mazes, or their meditative quality, and a labyrinth locator? Who knew! Thanks for sharing.

  4. This is very interesting stuff! Thanks for the info.

  5. What a fascinating posting and a beautiful one too. Since my Mother suffers with dementia this article really means a lot.

  6. First, thank you for the post...those of us who lost loved ones to Alzheimer's know the suffering of our loved one and our incredible book aptly named, Living in the Labyrinth by Diana McGowin, talks of her personal journey with Alzheimer's...the idea of a labyrinth has always intrigued me and may be a new project dedicated to my father...secondly I had no idea that the bulb labyrinth at Cornell is but an hour drive away so I may need to visit this year...

  7. A beautiful, interesting post. I've always loved snowdrops and this makes me love them even more, as Alzheimer's runs in my family. Thanks for sharing, Liisa.

  8. A very profound post. I plan to spend more time researching this connection of spiritual healing and labyrinths. You have set my gears in my mind whirling and clicking.

    Thank you. This horrible disease does not affect anyone in my family but I have lost a best friend to it, who no longer recognizes my friendship. I cannot begin to imagine what it would do for a spouse or caregiver.

  9. Incredible post, Sunny. You share such inspiring features. I drive by Marionjoy almost everyday, and I never knew the labyrinth was there, though I do know they provide unparalleled rehabilitation. Thanks!

  10. Hi - I put the Stylish Blogger Award for you on my site - Great blog!

  11. As my husband was taking his Final Journey, I pushed him in his wheelchair through the labyrinth here in Everett, WA. We had those last outside moments together. It was beautiful. I have, for years, raked the last leaves of autumn into an abbreviated labyrinth in my back yard. The grass grows greener there the following spring---lovely to see, lovely to walk in.

  12. We enjoyed the reference to Chuck's blog and I am sending you pics from the labyrinth I made for him last Spring on Sanibel Island. Every morning we would enjoy the sunrise, then I would meditate on the beach while he walked the labyrinth. Pictures will come via FB. Deb and Chuck Donofrio

  13. Wow, really interesting piece. Labyrinths as works of art. Have recently seen a documentary "I Remember Better When I Paint" on how different forms of art are helping people with Alzheimer's - really inspiring. Will also add visiting a labyrinth of something to try.