OMA Builds Bridges across Age and Cognitive Barriers

OMA is an intergenerational art program offered at The Christian Village at Mason

Every Thursday during the school year, students from Mason High School pair up with residents from The Christian Village at Mason to embark on a creative journey.

This creative hour and unlikely friendship are all possible through the Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program. OMA is an intergenerational art program for people with dementia. Through this opportunity, people with dementia are paired with volunteer students who are trained to rely on imagination instead of memory.

Dr. Elizabeth Lokon founded Opening Minds through Art at Miami University in 2007. According to Dr. Lokon, she established the program to improve the quality of life for people living with dementia. In 2016, OMA’s Assistant Director Beth Rohrbaugh helped establish the program at The Christian Village at Mason.

“The basic question is: Does creative engagement, using this intergenerational method, improve the quality of life of people living with dementia?” Dr. Lokon said. “Our research shows it does. It shows that engaging in OMA, compared to other activities, gives them more pleasure and more engagement.”

Partnering with Mason’s National Art Society

At The Christian Village at Mason, Mason National Arts Honor Society students guide and support the artists during the OMA sessions. In order to be eligible to help, all volunteers must attend a two-day training that prepares them for working with the residents.  Participating residents do not have to possess previous art experience.

Mason High School senior Ryan Kneipp has been volunteering with OMA since the beginning of his junior year. Kneipp said through this program he’s become more relaxed working with people living with dementia.

“After the first few weeks, it became a lot more comfortable to sit with my elder,” Kneipp said. “She became more comfortable with me over time, and she began to talk more and open up.”

Director of Community Life Services Julia Larimer graduated from Miami University. While in school, she volunteered with OMA, performed research and served as a site leader at multiple locations. At The Christian Village at Mason, Larimer trains incoming program volunteers as part of her job responsibilities.

Larimer is present at most OMA sessions and can attest to how the artists bond with the students.

“You see the residents open up,” Larimer said. “It’s interesting the kind of conversations they have. I overheard a student the other day talking about Chipotle and the elder said, ‘I think I’d like to try that.’ Or some pairs will talk about politics and discuss opinions on that.”

The student-artist relationship

Artists participating in OMA enjoy a new project each week. After being walked through a demonstration by The Christian Village at Mason’s Site Leader, Rachel Henderson, the student is prepared provide support as well as words of encouragement during the art-making session with their partner.OMA is art program for people with dementia

According to Dr. Lokon, volunteers aren’t allowed to put any marks on the page. The artwork is to be done solely by the artist.

“The initial response is ‘Honey, I’m not an artist, you do this,” Dr. Lokon. “The artist can become self-doubting. Students need to learn how to encourage, step back and give space so the artist can create.”

Leaders evaluate every OMA art project prior to the session. The evaluation process ensures that the project is failure free, each work of art turns out differently and the process has a surprise element.

End of the semester art show­­

At the end of each semester, we display the artwork around the halls of The Christian Village at Mason. Then the artists’ family and friends gather together for an art show, followed by an award ceremony.

Dr. Lokon said the art show serves as a celebration but also as a form of education to the public.

“The art show is to celebrate the creativity, to celebrate the friendship and to prove people living with dementia can make beautiful artwork if they tap into their creativity.” Dr. Lokon said. “Also, the art show educates the general public about what people living with dementia are capable of doing.”

Since the founding of OMA, the program has spread to over 128 sites, 100 in the United States and 28 in Canada. Overall, OMA has a presence at over 960 assisted living facilities and nursing homes and the program continues to spread.

For more information about OMA

For more information, contact Julia Larimer at The next OMA session at The Christian Village at Mason starts this fall.