Art for Alzheimer’s: Lila Wohl paints to support the elderly


Photo courtesy Lila Wohl

Lila Wohl stands in her backyard holding three greeting cards that she made for her Etsy shop, ArtsForAlzheimers.

By Lauren Heberlee

This story was published in print during the 2020-21 school year.

From carefully shaped pottery to water color paintings, senior Lila Wohl can’t remember a time when she wasn’t creating art. Wohl’s bedroom — covered floor to ceiling in her original artwork — doubles as an art studio where she experiments with countless mediums. During the pandemic, Wohl channeled her passion for art into charity by creating her own business.

In Nov. 2020, Wohl launched Art for Alzheimer’s, an enterprise through which she sells prints of her art on greeting cards. She donates all of the profits to the Alzheimer’s Association, an organization that works on the early detection and prevention of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Ever since the beginning of her freshman year, Wohl volunteered at Cedar Creek Auxiliary Home, a nursing home in Bethesda that specializes in advanced Alzheimer’s care.

“Lila would go several times a week, just to volunteer and to be with her ‘ladies’, as she called them,” said Michael Wohl, Lila’s dad. “She would do all sorts of things, from music to art, and talk with them. She just had the patience of a saint — it was really remarkable.”

When the pandemic first hit, however, the care center’s COVID-19 guidelines prohibited Wohl from visiting patients. 

“I wanted to think of some way that I could continue my outreach into the Alzheimer’s community and try to do some good, even through COVID-19,” Wohl said.

Wohl’s passion for art came naturally, as both of her parents are musicians and her younger brother, Adeev, is a talented colored pencil artist, she said.

During quarantine, when she wasn’t doing yoga or practicing piano, Wohl spent her free time at the Potomac River or sitting on her lawn, letting the fresh air fuel her creativity. Having taken few formal art classes, she prefers to mess around and have fun when creating her art, she said.

One of Wohl’s handmade greeting cards (photo courtesy Lila Wohl)

“She’s got a very wide imagination,” Michael said. “It doesn’t matter where she starts out — she will figure out what the art is and how she can apply her capabilities to it.”

Each Art for Alzheimer’s greeting card starts with an original painting. Wohl uses a combination of watercolor and acrylic paint on either canvas or watercolor paper to create vivid landscapes. She then photographs the paintings, edits the photos to enhance the colors and prints the image onto stock greeting cards that she sells in bundles of three. 

The bundles are grouped based on naturalistic themes like desert, spring and blue sky — Wohl’s personal favorite. She sells them on Etsy, which is an online marketplace that offers vintage items, handmade goods and art and crafts. The shop allows the public easy access to purchase Wohl’s art.

While Michael orders some of the supplies and Adeev occasionally helps package the greeting cards, Lila runs Art for Alzheimer’s largely by herself, juggling the business and her schoolwork every day.

“She handles the marketing piece and all the pieces necessary to have a successful social impact through commerce,” Michael said.

Wohl’s relationship with her great aunt, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, helps her resonate with the messages she’s received from peers and customers who’ve also experienced the damaging effects of the disease.

“When I started the project, I got a lot of messages from people who I didn’t really even know super well saying, ‘My grandmother just passed away from Alzheimer’s’ or ‘I have a family member who’s experiencing Alzheimer’s’,” Wohl said. “Alzheimer’s affects every single aspect of a person’s life, and it really affects their families and how they interact with their loved ones. It’s a really, really devastating disease.”

Beyond painting for Alzheimer’s, Lila has found that experimenting with artistic mediums — be it clay, oil paints or watercolors — has done more than generate a creative outlet; it also helps her focus during online classes.

“When I’m painting or doing something with my hands, it’s actually much easier for me to pay attention to what the teacher is saying, which I know sounds counterintuitive,” Wohl said. “But because it’s such a fun thing to do, it actually keeps me more focused. It’s just like when I FaceTime my friends or we have a group Zoom and we’re all talking — that’s when I’ll be painting.”

To help grow the business, Wohl created the Instagram page @art_for_alzheimers, where she posts updates and sneak peaks of new card bundles. Often, her friends and family help out by promoting the account on their own social media pages.

“I’m working toward spreading as much awareness and raising as much funds toward Alzheimer’s research as I can,” Wohl said. “Any support, not even financial, but just anyone who shares what we’re doing is super helpful.”

 By the end of April, Wohl had raised nearly $1,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association.

“Kids can do a lot, whether they’re involved with Alzheimer’s residents or are fundraising,” said Sheila Griffith, program manager for the National Capital Area chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. 

Wohl hopes to volunteer again at the nursing home when restrictions lift, and is planning to attend American University to major in psychology with a focus on geriatrics –– a branch of medicine that focuses on the health and care of the elderly. She aims to continue Art for Alzheimer’s in college and even start a fundraising club.

“I think geriatric work is super important,” Wohl said. “It’s a field that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and it’s something I definitely want to be a part of.” 

Wohl’s love for the elderly has shaped who she is as a person, Wohl said, and she believes there’s much wisdom that elderly community members can impart from their years of knowledge.

“She’s always had a gravitational pull towards the elderly, even if it’s just an old dog walking down the street,” Michael said. “An important piece of Lila’s personality is making sure no one gets left behind in terms of care.”