Dementia patients receive freedom of expression

By Blythe Alspaugh -

SIDNEY—Ohio Living Dorothy Love will be introducing a new program, “Opening Minds through Art” to elderly patients living with dementia in September.

“So many times in long-term care, most residents don’t get the choice in what they’re going to eat that day, or what clothes they’re going to wear,” said Betsy Naseman, activities coordinator at Dorothy Love Retirement Community. “But this gives them an option, at least once a week, to do different things, and gives them choices to express themselves, do something creative, and build a relationship with a volunteer.”

Opening Minds through Art (OMA) is a program that has existed for eight years and pairs older adults with trained volunteers to create abstract art projects. Residents who participate usually have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia and are paired with the same volunteers every week to work on abstract pieces of art. Before and after sessions, residents are asked a series of questions, including how they are feeling that day. So far from a test session with residents, the team at Dorothy Love Retirement Community has seen residents come in, sometimes feeling sad, but the vast majority of them leaving happy and wanting to know when they’ll be able to come back and paint again. One resident in particular, who is in the later stages of dementia and had difficulty holding a paint brush and didn’t have previous experience painting, created a piece she was proud of.

“She was having a great time and she talked the entire way back, in complete sentences. She was talking about her mom and her grandmother, and how [the colors she used] were their favorite colors,” Naseman said. “It was really amazing seeing her come out of her shell in that little bit of time.”

“It’s amazing to me. Besty’s been having open time for staff to come and learn a little bit more about it, and I did one. There were three of us on this particular day, and all three people came up with very different projects,” Executive Director Tricia Atwood said.

One of the benefits of the program is pairing residents with the same volunteer each week, who will help guide them through the art project by explaining the process to them, giving them pre-selected options to choose from, and helping them handle the tools provided for the project. In the end, the residents not only learn to express themselves through art, but the end up building a relationship with their volunteer. For the Dorothy Love team, their goal is to make the program inter-generational, pairing volunteers of high school age and older with residents.

“I’ve been in touch with some of the schools in the area. We’re hoping to have those different generations and pair them with the same resident every week, and then be able to help them form that bond,” said Naseman. “Hopefully the students will get as much out of it as the residents.”

Atwood added that the program, as a whole, could have many benefits for the community.

“It’s that one-on-one conversation, it’s that opportunity to bring new people on campus that we’re hoping as well, to introduce them to people they may not get to know otherwise, and give them those experiences,” Atwood said.

Volunteer training for the program begins on Sept. 24 and runs for three weeks, covering an overview of dementia, the OMA process, and answering any questions as well as providing volunteers with tips on how to interact with residents and help guide them through the art process. Dorothy Love Retirement Community hopes to start the program by the third week of October and have it run for up to ten weeks, and eventually have an art show sometime in the spring of 2020. Those interested in volunteering can contact Naseman at for more information.

By Blythe Alspaugh

Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4825.