“Though those with Alzheimer’s might forget us, we as a society must remember them.” ~ Scott Kirshenbaum
More than 6.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease. Butler Tech students at the Bioscience Center are dedicating their Fifth Day Experience to helping just a few of those suffering from the disease to rely on their imagination instead of their memory.
Bioscience Center student volunteers, all of whom are studying to become future healthcare workers, are partnered with Opening Minds through Art (OMA), “an award-winning, evidence-based, intergenerational art-making program for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of neurocognitive disorders.” The students are paired with people with dementia who participate as the artists, while the students serve as facilitators, helping their partner focus on remaining strengths instead of lost skills.
Lisa von Haefen, Project Lead the Way Biomedical Science Instructor brought the program to the Bioscience Center with a very personal connection.
“Oma is German for grandmother,” shared von Haefen. “It is what we called my mom who passed from Alzheimer’s in September of 2020. When I learned about the program and how it helps patients and families and gives our students real-world experience working with Alzheimer’s patients, I knew it was a sign from my mom. A way to make a difference.”
The artists, all individuals being served by the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Cincinnati, come to the Bioscience Center on designated Fridays to meet with their student partners and create new artwork. The students all completed a training course for the program and are using their experiences as work-based learning in their field.
“The purpose is to teach our students, future healthcare providers, empathy and understanding. It gives the artists/patients autonomy, expression, and choice,” said von Haefen. “I really love watching the intergenerational interactions. They laugh and enjoy spending time together. It’s an experience I wish I could have provided my mother. She would have loved it.”
The OMA program originated at Miami University in 2007 and has since spread to more than 200 locations in the United States. This year’s program at the Bioscience Center is a pilot program with the hope of expanding the opportunity next year to involve even more artists and students.
“I love that our students have this opportunity,” said von Haefen. “I see their growth and maturity. It’s powerful watching 16, 17, and 18-year-old students learn to appreciate older adults regardless of their abilities.”