A resident of the Knolls of Oxford dips an art tool into paint.
A resident of the Knolls of Oxford dips an art tool into paint. Photo: Scott Kissell

Opening Minds Through Art touts statewide expansion plans and available grant money among new updates

Did you know?

In Ohio, OMA has certification through the Ohio Department of Aging as part of Ohio's nursing home quality initiative. Each licensed nursing home in the state must complete at least one quality improvement project every two years. OMA is only one of two art-based projects available.

by Shavon Anderson, university news and communications

At a table set up with watercolors and bits of colored tissue paper, Myrna glides a paintbrush across a colored palette and creates new blends of colors on her paper.

The retired accountant is a resident of The Knolls of Oxford and a long-time participant in Opening Minds Through Art (OMA), a program for people with dementia. Headquartered at Miami University’s Scripps Gerontology Center, OMA pairs people in retirement communities with trained volunteers who help participants unlock their inner creativity. More than 2,000 Miami students have participated at regional care facilities.

Program founder and director Elizabeth Lokon wants to expand access but faces a roadblock. In 2016, OMA received a three-year grant to expand to 102 facilities across Ohio. While 66 facilities are already onboard, Lokon has grant money for 36 more. The funding disappears if it’s not distributed by the end of June.
Lokon said spreading the word is the biggest challenge in getting people to apply for the funding. This is the last chance facilities have to implement an OMA program. 

Found and director Elizabeth "Like" Lokon (pictured center) talks with volunteers and artists at The Knolls of Oxford (photo by Scott Kissell).

Grant recipients get training and $1500 in art supplies. There are three training locations to choose from: Oxford, Parma, or Upper Sandusky, OH. Trainees living more than 50 miles from these locations receive travel support to attend the training. Requests for proposals are due by March 22.

While facilities outside of Ohio aren’t eligible for grants, that hasn’t stopped growth. OMA is in 150 locations across 22 states and Canada, garnering rave reviews and releasing evidence-based research to back efforts.
The art-making sessions serve many purposes. While participants get a sense of independence, the program shows others how to better understand people with neurocognitive issues and increase quality of care.
“A lot of times families say, ‘My mom doesn’t even know who I am, so I don’t see the point in visiting her,’” Lokon said. “That’s the kind of attitude I want to change.”
Lokon said even if seniors don’t remember names or faces, they remember how experiences made them feel and can continue making connections through activities.
The artwork gets displayed in a gallery exhibition to celebrate the artists and educate the public about the artists’ creative capacities.

Expanding efforts outside of Ohio

In 2018, OMA set a new direction in its expansion efforts. Instead of targeting retirement communities, OMA targeted medical schools and universities offering health sciences degrees. So far, ten colleges and universities have agreed to participate in a study to assess the impact of OMA on future healthcare professionals:

A volunteer works with a senior resident at The Knolls of Oxford during an OMA art session (photo by Scott Kissell).

  • Maryville University (occupational therapy)
  • Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Miami University (nursing, speech therapy)
  • Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Ohio State University College of Medicine
  • Penn State University College of Medicine
  • Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
  • University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences
  • University of Cincinnati (College of Medicine, speech therapy)

The Miami Women Giving Circle also purchased more than 40 tablets for OMA that can be loaned out. Participating facilities can send pictures, videos and other data to Scripps Gerontology Center as a way to gather feedback. 

Information on OMA facilities and research can be found on the program’s website.