Senior and Student at OMA

Opening Minds through Art

Organization Associated with Program
Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University
396 Upham Hall
Oxford, Ohio 45056

Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) is an intergenerational art program for people living with neurocognitive disorders including memory loss based at the Scripps Gerontology Center, an Ohio Center of Excellence at Miami University. The program is aimed at promoting the social engagement, autonomy, and dignity of people with memory loss through creative self-expression. OMA is designed to show that a person living with memory loss has a unique self that can be expressed through art.
Each week, volunteers go to retirement communities to facilitate this creative process. They bring artistic inspirations and art supplies, and they offer their friendship. They pair up with the same partners each week, and they listen, watch, and learn new ways to value older people with cognitive impairments for who they are now. They encourage the older adults to make their own aesthetic decisions and support their remaining abilities so that they can be active agents in their own creative process. Approximately 200 pairs of older adults with memory loss and student/community volunteers participate in the program annually. The 10-week program culminates in an art exhibition showing family, friends, and the general public that participants still have many creative capacities.

Program History

The Opening Minds Through Art program was developed by Scripps Research Associate Dr. Elizabeth Lokon in 2007 in response to a fundamental unmet need for creative self-expression among people with memory loss, especially those in the middle and later stages. Dr. Lokon found that art programming in long-term care settings tends to overlook the remaining strengths of people with memory loss and often does not recognize their full personhood. Craft activities with prescribed outcomes inspired by an early childhood curriculum based on cultural holiday themes were found to be all too common. These types of activities do not provide older adults with any real opportunity for authentic and original creative self-expression, and they often result in further social disengagement and withdrawal. Opening Minds Through Art was developed to address these limitations. Since 2007 OMA has become embedded as a service learning component at Miami University, in gerontology, family studies and social work, geriatric nursing courses, and in the honors program.

Program Assessments and Evaluations

Scripps continues to evaluate the program's impact on all parties involved using various methods, including Dementia Care Mapping, video and observational data analysis, pre and post-test questionnaires, interviews, and journal analysis.

Evaluation shows that participating in OMA has a positive impact on student volunteers’ attitudes toward aging and individuals with memory loss. Preliminary analyses of the impact of participating in OMA on the older adults’ wellbeing are promising. Older people with memory loss were more engaged and showed more interest and positive emotions in creative arts activities than in other structured activities.

Advice for Other Organizations Conducting Similar Programs

Involve all parties from the beginning, including direct care workers, nurses, activity staff members, and management. Keep everyone informed about the progress of the program. Continually evaluate using multiple methods, and apply findings to continually improve the program.

Kinds of creative engagement/ program focus Creation of Original Work, Exhibiting Artwork, Viewing Artwork, Participate in a Workshop
Arts Discipline: Visual Arts
Interdisciplinary Connections: Civic Engagement, Health / Medicine, Volunteerism
Target Audience: Frail Older Adults, Intergenerational, People with Alzheimer's Disease / Dementia
Adaptive Program Design Cognitive Disabilities
Program Setting: Adult Day Care, Arts Organization, Education (e.g. School / University), Healthcare - Long Term Care, Healthcare - Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)
Program Service Area: Suburban, Urban, International Outreach
Type of Practice: Field Tested Best Practice