DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — As Doug Lyon bent over his art project, applying blue painter’s tape to paper, he kept asking Hannah Bachmann her opinion.
“Nice,” she replied. “Good choice — they’re all good choices.”
Lyon, 68, a resident of the Mayfair Village Nursing Care and Retirement Center, basked in the consistent affirmation he received from Bachmann, 23, a student at the Dublin campus of Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“She’s great,” Lyon said. “Really, she’s wonderful.”
The two were participating in the Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) program recently at the Northwest Side facility. The program pairs people with dementia with a volunteer — often, but not always, a college student.
The program consists of six to eight weekly, hourlong sessions. As much as possible, the same students and residents work together weekly.
Creating amazing art is not the main point. It simply is the means to stimulate memory-care patients and also facilitate a relationship between young and old.
“It’s for everybody to recognize the humanity of each other,” said Elizabeth Lokon, the director and founder of the OMA program at the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University. “So the person with dementia — we call them OMA artists — gets the opportunity to have some creative self-expression and also the opportunity to connect with someone of a different generation.”
Lokon said the other side of the equation is that the young artists also become teachers.
“We can’t teach young people to be more open and accepting and valuing older adults by staying inside the classroom,” she said. “When they interact with people with dementia, they can really understand and feel it.”
Lokon founded OMA at Miami in 2007, and it since has spread to more than 160 sites in 27 states and Canada. There are two in Columbus; the other is at the Ohio Living Westminster-Thurber facility on the North Side.
In Ohio, the state’s Department of Medicaid funds OMA through a grant program. Sites starting OMA receive $3,500 to purchase art supplies and to have two staffers go through OMA training.
The Ohio University medical school involvement with OMA started in 2019, prompted by students Sarah Pomerants and Dannie Roberts. Both attended Miami as undergrads and were familiar with OMA there.
William Burke, dean of OU’s medical school in Dublin, is an enthusiastic proponent of the program.
“This is an opportunity for our students to interact with these residents as individuals and not simply through the lens of a doctor-patient experience,” he said.
The recent Mayfair Village session started with Karen Rice, the facility’s activity director who went through OMA training, demonstrating the week’s project to the students.
The students then paired up with residents to begin putting tape on paper, then adding paint and peeling off the tape.
The sessions all begin and end with everyone singing the same songs: “You Are My Sunshine” and “This Little Light of Mine.”
Lyon, who said he once worked in maintenance at Ohio State University, busied himself with a depiction of The Oval on the OSU campus.
Each artist is asked to title his or her work, and Lyon called his “Campus Moving Sidewalks.”
At another table, Patricia Powers, who said she is “91, at least,” was using generous amounts of green paint flecked with yellow.
Her creation was titled “Ireland Forever” because, she said, “That’s where my people came from.”
Rice said she believes OMA helps the residents.
“It decreases (negative) behaviors and it gives them a sense of self-worth,” she said.
Roberts and Pomerants both marveled at how much they get out of giving.
“When I watch their faces light up with so much joy, that in turn gives me a lot of joy, as well,” said Roberts, 24, a Granville native.
Just before the closing song, each student conducted a quick survey of the residents.
OU student Ayah Shehata, who was paired with Powers, asked her how much she enjoyed the day’s art project.
Powers said: “Very much, because I got to meet you!”