Most people would never guess that Dr. Linda Levine-Madori once raced Porsche sports cars or that she scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
But many are likely to know about the work she’s done in the field of therapeutic recreation. For the past 30 years, Linda has devoted her career to research, practice, education, and to bringing to the forefront the benefits this therapy offers to people with cognitive disabilities.
“There is a significant statistical correlation between the number of hours people in nursing homes spend in therapeutic programming and their cognitive functioning,” Linda says, referring to the results of several studies, including a one-year survey of nursing home residents that was part of her dissertation. Simply put, being creative and having fun with others is good for the mind.
Her research on Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive functioning, and psycho-social well-being was the basis for the TTAP Method, Therapeutic Thematic Arts Programming. This 12-step program Linda created for healthcare professionals links specific activities, such as meditation, music, painting, drawing, movement, sculpture, and poetry, with different parts of the brain.
Describing how the program works in a nursing home setting, Linda says that a therapist would use prompts to engage residents and encourage socialization, for example, sharing memories of a favorite vacation. The therapist might then ask the group to paint a picture of colors that come to mind or to write a poem, or create a collage of pictures from the trip. “We are always forward-thinking,” she says. “But when you get to the retirement stage or end-of-life stage, we reminisce about our lives and special moments. It is a way to be self-expressive.”
The TTAP Program is now widely used by professionals in the field and by Linda’s students who apply it while working with residents at the Promenade at Blue Hill, an assisted living facility in Pearl River. “Each week, one student leads the program,” she says. “They are practicing before going into their internships. Not only am I giving them a platform for their profession, but I’m also giving them hands-on experience of how you can impact a person’s life.”
Linda remembers how exhilarating it was to see the significant effects art and recreational activities had on residents at two nursing homes she worked at earlier in her career. “I love art, and I was able to bring it into these people’s lives,” she says. Now, she finds it fulfilling to pass that on to students and to give them the tools and skills to go on to rewarding careers helping others.
The first in her family to go to college, Linda earned a bachelor’s degree at City University and took a job at Montefiore Hospital. It was there that she met an art therapist and was inspired to learn more about the field. So, she returned to school and eventually earned both a master’s and post-masters degree in Therapeutic Science and Creative Art Therapy. Later, she pursued a doctorate in Health Studies at New York University and began teaching.
Linda is the recipient of two Fulbright scholarships and has presented in classes and lectures in over 30 countries, including Finland, France, Spain, Switzerland, Indonesia, Prague, and China. She has also published her research in several scholarly journals and books that have been translated into Finnish and German.
In her downtime, Linda paints, sculpts, and rewinds outdoors. She especially enjoys going off-grid to spend time with her four children and seven grandchildren at her vacation home on the Jersey Shore. “I have been very blessed,” she says. “Spending days with them at the ocean is magical.”