Health & Wellness

Creating Art Builds Empathy Between Young And Old

Future medical professionals learn how to interact with people with memory loss in a very personal way.

Empathy and understanding. It's what we all want, especially as we get older, and maybe, more forgetful. Now young people who will become our future doctors, nurses and therapists are learning how to be more empathetic caregivers to people with memory loss through an innovative program that uses art to connect young and old.

Opening Minds Through Art/Facebook

The program is called Opening Minds through Art (OMA), and it was founded in 2007 by Dr. Elizabeth Lokon at the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio.

OMA is an intergenerational art-making program for people with Alzheimer's disease, dementia and other diminished mental function. These patients -- the "artists" -- are paired with young volunteers who visit them weekly in their nursing homes and care centers to work on art projects. The volunteers are trained to rely on the person's imagination rather than their memory, and focus on their strengths instead of skills they've lost. Suddenly the focus becomes building a relationship rather than completing an art project, and the volunteers develop a natural empathy.

Opening Minds Through Art/Facebook

"We can't teach young people to be more open and accepting and valuing older adults by staying inside the classroom," Dr. Lokon told the Columbus Dispatch. "When they interact with people with dementia, they can really understand and feel it."

Like Sydney, who was paired with a patient named Sue through OMA:

While it was founded in Ohio, the OMA program is now in more than 160 sites in 27 states and Canada. Medical schools, like the Ohio University Medical School, partner with the program to make it part of the educational experience for their medical school, nursing, occupational therapy and speech therapy students. Med school student Dannie Roberts helped bring the program to OU. "When I watch their faces light up with so much joy, that in turn gives me a lot of joy, as well."

"It's for everybody to recognize the humanity of each other." Dr. Elizabeth Lokon

In Ohio, the state's Department of Medicaid funds OMA through a grant program. Sites get $3,500 to purchase art supplies and train staff members.

Opening Minds Through Art/Facebook

How can you start something good?

What a wonderful way to make a difference in the lives of people with memory loss, and teach young people who will make a difference in the lives of patients in the future with the empathy they've learned. It's also a reminder to be kind and patient with people with memory loss in our everyday lives.

If you're interested in learning more about the OMA program and how to bring it to a facility near where you live, click here. Click here to support the program with a donation.

The Conversation
More stories you may love

How Saving A Church Is Saving Lives Too

A couple bought an abandoned church and turned it into a community center. What they've created is so much bigger.

They're Saluting Our Veterans Every Day of the Year

Meet the Pittsburghers who are making sure our returning vets have jobs, homes and food, and find out how you can help.

How Goats And The Volunteers Who Love Them Are Saving A Popular Park

They're keeping invasive plants from taking over Pittsburgh's Frick Park by doing what comes naturally. For the goats at least!

Our Mission
Have you ever felt like there's just too much bad news? Ever felt like the world is hopeless, and you're helpless to do anything about it? We did too. That's why we created Sparkt™.
At Sparkt™, we tell powerful stories about great people making a difference in their communities, and we show you how you can make a difference too. Join us, and together, let's #StartSomethingGood!
Sparkt Newsletter
Get positive, uplifting stories in your inbox
Follow Us on Social Media
Download the Mobile App
Sparkt™ is a Rabble Holdings, Inc. Media Brand. © 2020 Rabble Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.