Art program benefits students and seniors
Art can create powerful connections and, this fall, the 10-week-long Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program demonstrated just how meaningful and important those connections can be.
The intergenerational art program is specifically designed for people living with dementia, and Bachelor of Science Nursing (BScN) students were partnered with seniors to guide them through the weekly art projects.
“This is a pilot project, and it’s the first year that OMA has been available to any seniors’ facility in central Alberta and to RDC students,” says Shireen Bell, BScN Instructor. “This project was made possible through our practicum agreement with Points West Living Red Deer and through training and facilitation support of Alzheimer Society of Alberta and North West Territories. This project is truly a community-based partnership.”
Thanks to the partnership, second-year students who were involved in older adult care through their first clinical practicum had the unique opportunity to partner with artists living with dementia. “Each week, I knew that I was truly making a difference,” says Stephanie Aubuchon, second-year BScN student. “I worked with the same artist throughout the program, and we developed such a special relationship. He would wait for me each week, making sure he was ready when I came, and he was always so proud of what he created.”
Prior to the program, Aubuchon didn’t have previous experience working with people living with dementia, but she developed a passion for working with and advocating for these individuals. “I learned a great deal about communication, taking things one step at a time and the importance of being present,” she says. “It didn’t matter what the art turned out like, what mattered was that the artist was in control, making decisions he wanted to make and creating connections through our conversations.”
These positive benefits to a person’s well-being have been researched since the OMA program was first developed more than 10 years ago. Researchers have found increased social engagement, interest and pleasure, and consequently less disengagement, negative emotions, sadness and confusion. “We are happy to say that we have also noticed these positive effects in the resident artists,” says Bell. “It has been incredibly moving to see this first-hand.”
While not all of the second-year BScN students were able to participate with the artists first-hand, they all had the option to be involved in a variety of ways. Students Amber Thibault and Jeny Mahendrakumar took on leadership roles in the program when they planned the OMA Art Show, held on December 6. The art show and silent auction featured 40 pieces of art created throughout the program, and all proceeds from the event were put back into the program to purchase supplies in the future.
“From the beginning of our planning, it was always so important for us to create a classy event where family members and supporters could honour the artists and the pieces that they created,” says Thibault. “The remainder of the pieces that were not part of the show were framed and given to the artists as gifts.”
Honouring the people they work with and making connections with them is an important learning for all students. “When we have the opportunities to work with multiple generations of people, we get to collaborate and learn from each other,” says Mahendrakumar. “They teach us and we also give them opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise, so it’s a great part of building relationships.”
As a BScN instructor and a leader in the OMA program, Bell sees the long-term importance of these learnings. “We hope that this experience will help our graduates in a number of ways, from understanding strength-based health maintenance and education to social advocacy and awareness, as well as confidence in developing meaningful relationships with people living with dementia,” she says. “We do not want our students to lose sight of the unique potential that people have, despite the fast-paced style of work a health care professional may encounter. A personal learning experience such as OMA can really instill this message far more effectively than words alone.”
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