Creating Artistic Expression for People with Dementia

by | Nov 16, 2020 | Aging & Independent Living

Art can help people living with dementia express their thoughts, memories and emotions. With that in mind, LCS Northwest has begun offering an art program for people living with dementia in Pierce County.

Opening Minds through Art (OMA) is an award-winning, evidence-based, intergenerational art program for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The curriculum was developed by Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami (OH) University. The center recently certified LCS Northwest as an OMA provider and Laurie Arndt as our instructor.

Instructor Laurie Arndt decorates her wall with artwork from her Opening Minds through Art (OMA) classes. OMA uses art to help people living with dementia express themselves.

OMA classes are typically held in person in a classroom setting, but because of the pandemic, Laurie is conducting her classes online. Reimagining classes for a virtual audience is a challenge, as she’s modified lessons to work for her online artists. Art supplies are provided for the artists and delivered to their porches prior to the session.

“We have the distinction of being the first OMA class in the nation to roll out completely online,” Laurie said.

OMA serves as a bridge to building relationships. In a classroom setting, artists are paired with college-age volunteers from the community who are their partners in the art class. It encourages intergenerational conversations and interactions between the artist and their partner. It’s meant to help community members understand people living with dementia and to see them in a positive light.

Class size is smaller for online sessions with four or five students, and a session lasts for six weeks. Volunteers can’t be used during the pandemic, so partners are typically a caregiver or family member.

“It’s exciting to facilitate a way for people with dementia to communicate through art.” Laurie said. “An art project reminded one student of roads and he shared that he had been a truck driver. He went on to talk for fifteen minutes about his experience driving trucks. It was very enlightening.”

The program would normally partner with a local art gallery to display the artwork at the end of the session. Since that’s not possible right now, OMA will professionally mat and frame the artist’s favorite creation as a keepsake.

OMA is part of LCS Northwest’s Dementia Friendly Pierce County initiative. The initiative includes Dementia Friends, a one-hour information session for anyone living in Pierce County who wants to learn more about understanding and helping people living with dementia.