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Occupational Therapy Program Helps Dementia Patients Through Art

Posted by Brian Spence on Mar 9, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Occupational Therapy, Allied Health, COTAA new occupational therapy program is empowering dementia patients to use their creativity at a St. Louis, Missouri campus. Maryville University recently started the Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program. Organizers designed the new program to help those with Alzheimer's and dementia to connect with their inner artistic skills. The program brings joy into patients lives. It also helps them to socialize with others and become more creative.

These Maryville University students work with patients in the program. They help them use art brushes to paint unique works onto empty canvases.

According to Debra Bryer, an Alzheimer's Association Early Stages Initiatives Manager, OMA is a great resource for families and patients. "It gives them an opportunity to have a little bit of a break, and to hang out and talk with each other in a very informal kind of way," Bryers told the Maryville University Press.

Assistant professor of occupational therapy Ashlyn Cunningham launched the OMA. The director says the art program transforms patients' lives. She says that participants tend to start off quiet, but become engaged and attentive in later weeks. They socialize with other participants.

The Program's Growing Popularity

Opening Minds through Art is the first of its kind in Missouri. Many participants learn about the OMA through word of mouth or the Alzheimer's Association tells families about the program.

  • Some Alzheimer's patients live in their homes. They don't have access to social activities provided by care facilities.
  • OMA tries to foster an ongoing relationship with patients. They pair Maryville students with individual artists for eight weeks. While artists create works, the students learn how to help them.
  • Each art session begins with a positive song to lighten the mood. The projects are abstract. There are no specific methods for creating artwork.
  • Volunteers ask patients to name their pieces. One patient could only utter the word "Wow", so they named the painting "Wow."
  • The framed artworks go on display at the end of the two months. Families treasure the finished pieces of their loved ones.

Donation Helps Program Continue

Barbara Cooney, an alumna of Maryville's English program, donated $5,000 to the occupational therapy program. Cooney says that the program does not fall into the category of "art therapy," a specific degree discipline, but it does help patients. "Making art gives a person a certain sense of power over their environment," Cooney told the Maryville University Press. "It gives them a little more autonomy."

Cooney's donation will help OMA purchase more art supplies, professional-quality paints, and India Ink. It also helped support Cunningham's "Train the Trainer" certification program. Organizers hope to expand OMA throughout St. Louis to help more African-American patients, who have a higher risk of developing dementia.

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