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.

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