Intergenerational Opening Minds through Arts (OMA) program

Featured in International Federation on Ageing, AFIX Newsletter Winter 2019/2020

By: Erica DeFrancesco & Tom Hayden

Over the years, LiveWell, a nonprofit focused on caring for individuals at all stages of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, has partnered with Quinnipiac University to launch several intergenerational initiatives. This past fall, eight QU Occupational Therapy students were assigned to a service-learning course offered at LiveWell, during which they participated in the award winning, intergenerational Opening Minds through Arts (OMA) program, which has received generous support from the Stanley D. and Hinda N. Fischer fund through the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The OMA program pairs students with persons living with dementia (PLWD), who adopt roles as artists and teachers. With varied levels of assistance from the students, the artists create unique pieces of abstract art each week.

Arriving at LiveWell expecting to make a positive difference in the lives of others, many students did not anticipate the beneficial impact that PLWD would have on them. One student, when reflecting upon her OMA experience, spoke about a powerful exchange that had deeply resonated with her one week. Her partner advised her to always be herself and cautioned her against being too rushed, because life goes by so fast. She commented that this advice could help her personally and professionally. In reflecting upon their biases, students commonly shared that their perceptions of dementia changed due to their OMA experiences. Many had associated dementia with deficits and loss, but participation in the OMA program gave them an opportunity to witness the strengths and abilities of PLWD. During the last class, one student shared with her partner, “You are such an incredible person and you have never ceased to impress me with your skills, abilities, and happiness…” Several students expressed a desire to return to LiveWell as OMA program volunteers. LiveWell looks forward to sustaining and expanding this transformational intergenerational program.