Originally Designed for Dementia Patients, Opening Minds Through Art Program Expands Reach in Boston

“The Sea”, created by Ed Jacobson and Olivia O’Neill at Mount Pleasant Home in Jamaica Plain.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Jacobson, a former MIT administrator, participates in Opening minds through arta program presented at Mount Pleasant by Goddard House, a non-profit elder care facility in Brookline. Each artist, in collaboration with a volunteer, creates original abstract art. An exhibit is on display in the halls of Mount Pleasant Home through April 29. Proceeds from the sale of the art will support the cost of supplies for the OMA program there.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” said volunteer Marge David, a retired nurse. “We only put in what we need for this stage and then remove it, so there’s no confusion about what we should use or what’s going to be next.”

OMA was originally designed for dementia patients by a gerontologist and an artist Elizabeth “loves” Lokon. Goddard House extended it to other populations.

“We realized that it’s not just for people who may not have physical or cognitive mental capacity, but for anyone,” said Christine Nagle, director of community partnerships at Goddard House.

This isn’t the first time OMA has been applied outside of the box. A group in the Netherlands has used OMA with autistic children, Lokon said in an email. And COVID-19 has prompted a new approach.

“Since the pandemic, we have expanded OMA programming to include older adults without cognitive impairment in order to address the isolation and loneliness associated with the pandemic,” she wrote. “I am happy that Goddard House is doing the same. I believe this is the future of the OMA.

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Christine Nagle exhibits recent work as part of the Opening Minds Through Art program at Mount Pleasant Home in Jamaica Plain.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Working closely with volunteers is essential.

“When you run other art programs at different facilities, not everyone has someone next to you while you make art together,” said OMA facilitator Silvina Ibanez. , visual artist and expressive therapist specializing in the use of a range of creative arts. therapeutic settings.

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Hosts Silvina Ibanez (left) and Ginny Mazur display artwork at the Opening Minds Through Art exhibit at Mount Pleasant Home in Jamaica Plain. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Goddard House Expressive Therapist Ginny Mazur trained as an OMA Facilitator in 2016. OMA is based in Scripps Center for Gerontology at the University of Miami in Oxford, Ohio. The program is designed for nursing homes, although Goddard House is not a nursing home: it is an assisted living facility with a memory care area. In 2017, LeadingAGEan umbrella organization for nonprofit elder care agencies in Massachusetts, awarded the Goddard House program a Innovation of the Year Award.

“I worked in art as an art therapist and expressive therapist for many years at Faulkner Hospital, working in psychiatry and with the elderly. I knew there was something missing in our field” , said Mazur.

Music programs are commonly used with dementia patients, but art programs are less common, she said. OMA is effective, she added, because of the step-by-step approach and individual commitment.

And while OMA isn’t considered therapy, “it’s healing, and I think it’s therapeutic and it’s fun,” Mazur said.

Figurative art can be challenging for people with cognitive deficits who may struggle to think sequentially to draw something familiar, Mazur said. Abstract art is something else entirely.

“A lot of people don’t remember your name,” she said. “Yet it’s because of that presence right now that they’re so open to creating.”

“Cool Cat”, by Opening Minds Through Art participant Betty White, performed at Mount Pleasant Home in Jamaica Plain.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The art looks dynamic. “It has a leveling effect on all cognitive abilities,” Mazur said.

Now, Goddard House is bringing artistic creation to other seniors with its OMA in the Community pilot program. The goal is to reach older people with a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities who have been isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last spring, Mazur and Ibanez brought OMA to Mount Pleasant Home. Since then, they have held eight-week sessions there, working with about 25 of the 60 residents. The program will wrap up in May, but Nagle said it plans to return in the fall.

“It was great to have something to look forward to every Friday,” said Jacobson, who never considered himself an artist.

Cheryl Saunders, another OMA resident and participant in Mount Pleasant and a former human resources professional, says she has always loved art.

Cheryl Saunders (left) shares a laugh with Isabelle Olsson during the Opening Minds Through Art exhibit at Mount Pleasant Home in Jamaica Plain. Olsson is an intern in the program and purchased the painting at the center by Saunders, an OMA participant.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

“My aunt was an artist in New York. Even when I was little, I was doing artistic stuff,” she said. “It’s very relaxing.”

Volunteers range from college age to retirement. David, the retired nurse, has been helping out for over four years.

“My mantra is to bring joy. And this program couldn’t fit more perfectly,” she said. “I have the joy of working with artists and then seeing the joy that they take away from the art they produce.”

Mazur and Ibanez developed the OMA exercises just as Goddard House’s programming pushed the boundaries of OMA’s original target population.

Nagle said they hope to roll out the plan to other Boston-area aged care facilities.

For Jacobson, who never considered himself an artist, it opened a new window in his life.

“It’s amazing what we end up creating,” he said.


Cate McQuaid can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.

Kayleen C. Rice