Lori Deagnon, 81, is nearly blind, but once a week, when her brush hits the paper, she paints using the most vivid colours and her imagination, with help from a high school support volunteer.

Deagnon is one of eight residents at Bethany Airdrie participating in the Opening Minds through Art Program (OMA). OMA is an intergenerational art program for people with dementia, founded by Dr. Elizabeth Lokon in 2007 at Scripps Gerontology Centre at Miami University. OMA-trained Bethany employees run the program with volunteers from local high schools.The Bethany Care Foundation is grateful to the Telus Friendly Future Foundation for supporting the OMA program.

Art therapy and creative expression are known to significantly benefit the physical and psychological well-being of people with dementia.

Candice Melloy, a Recreation Therapist at Bethany Airdrie, took the program a few years ago through the Alzheimer Society of Calgary. For the next ten weeks, Melloy will help residents build relationships with the students from Bert Church High School in Airdrie as they work together to create art using their imaginations.

While OMA aims to give participants autonomy by empowering them to make decisions in a failure-free environment, students learn compassion and empathy. Bert Church High School teacher Mr.Ryan Jones said some of his students initially hesitated because they knew nothing about dementia. “After a couple of times with the residents at Bethany Airdrie though, they said how much they enjoyed it and couldn’t wait to return.”

And the residents look forward to seeing the students each week. “Their eyes light up,” Melloy says. “While supporting the residents, the students learn how to strategize to help their partners through struggles. It is a win-win.”

In addition to Bethany Airdrie, OMA programs have also been offered at other Bethany sites across Alberta, including Cochrane and Harvest Hills. They wrap up with a public gallery exhibition and silent auction celebrating the artists’ accomplishments. All proceeds go directly back to the program to purchase art supplies for future participants.

If you are interested in supporting the OMA project or other projects that benefit our residents, please donate here.