Trinity Village intergenerational art program reducing behaviours, enhancing autonomy

A program that pairs residents from Trinity Village who have dementia with students from a local high school to create art has been reducing agitation and depression while promoting autonomy and helping seniors showcase their creative talent.

The program, which runs every Thursday in six-week sessions, engages residents with dementia who are experiencing depression and agitation, and who are challenging to engage in programming.  Trinity Village is the only Canadian long-term care home offering this program on-site.

The Opening Minds through Art (OMA) is a person-centred, strength-based art program developed at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 2007. It was designed to enhance social engagement and increase quality of life for people affected by dementia. The Kitchener long-term care home is partnering with Eastwood Collegiate Institute in the intergenerational program, and the results have been outstanding, say those working at the home.

“One of the great things about OMA is that it is an outcome-based program and research is built into the program’s structure,” explains Trinity Village recreationist Kathryn Bender.

At the beginning of each session, the students ask residents to rate how they are feeling and again afterwards to demonstrate the effectiveness of each session.

Before and after each six-week  session, staff members assess residents’ mood using the Depression 
A wall of art is displayed in the hallway of Trinity VillageRating Scale (DRS).
“Almost always, their mood has improved,” Bender says. “We have not had any decreases (in DRS score) after the program.”

One resident, whose DRS score had been consistently poor before Trinity Village began OMA, experienced a sharp improvement after the program, says Trinity Village spiritual care provider Gloria Ryder

“(The resident) reports herself that’s she’s feeling less anxious and a greater sense of well-being, which is amazing,” Ryder says.

Residents involved with the program do all the creative work. OMA projects are designed to be “no fail,” meaning they appeal to residents’ strengths and provide tasks they can accomplish. The students’ role is to support the artists’ autonomy and enable them to express themselves through their art. 

Promoting residents’ freedom of choice through this program is important because people often find others making decisions for them in long-term care settings, says Debby Riepert, chief operating officer at Lutheran Homes Kitchener-Waterloo, which operates Trinity Village.

“This program is designed in a way to maximize the choices made by the residents,” she says.

Residents are provided with various types of art to create, including the size of paper they want for their project.

“They end up creating beautiful art, but that’s just a bonus – what’s really important about this program is the relationship between the artists and the students that develops and that we are able to maximize (residents’) autonomy and their self-expression,” Ryder says. 

Engaging people with dementia can be challenging, but what makes this program different is that it builds relationships slowly over time, Ryder adds. The 12 students involved in the program receive special training about dementia and how to communicate with people who have dementia before the OMA session began. The sessions end with an art show where the pieces are matted, wine and cheese is served and artists, volunteers and family attend. 

Ryder and Bender attended an OMA training session at Miami University in June. When they returned, they presented the program to the home’s management and have been building since.

A student interacts with a resident in the art program as she is working on her art. The program’s first six-week session began in September. The residents in this session were paired with older volunteers and the program worked “very well,” Bender says. In the latest session, which began in January, there were 18 residents who were chosen.

Since Eastwood Collegiate is close to the
 home, Bender contacted the principal to see if there was interest. It turned out the school was looking for ways to engage students more with the community, so the program is filling needs for both  Trinity Village and the school, she says.

“We went to Eastwood Collegiate and pitched the idea to the students which blew me away – we had 43 students come in to see what OMA was about,” Bender says, adding that while there were only 12 students needed for the program, there were “stacks” of applications from others who wanted to be involved.

“The students have been phenomenal. They’re eager to learn, they take all the information and apply it, and they look forward to each session when they come,” she says. “Many (of the students) didn’t know anything about dementia, but they wanted to learn, so this (program) is also a wonderful way to educate younger people about dementia and about aging.”

Supplies for the program are provided through grants, but local art shops and family members have donated to the program as well. Families have seen the value the program provides to their loved ones, Bender says.

“They see something tangible,” she says.


In photos: A wall of art is displayed along the wall of Trinity Village (top). A student interacts with one of the residents in the program as she works on an art project.