Students in dementia class work with residents on art projects

dementia class
YSU students participating in the Opening Minds through Art program were Julia Carson, Paige Deems, Zoe Guzman, Kylan Harper, Autumn Hawkins, Taylor Perry, Miah Pierce and Morgan Tatsch.

Take eight motivated college students, pair them with older adults living with dementia, and it all adds up to beautiful, colorful art – and lasting relationships.

That’s what happened this Fall semester as students in Youngstown State University’s Sociology of Dementia course implemented the Opening Minds through Art program with a handful of residents at Danridge’s Burgundi Manor long-term care facility on Youngstown’s East Side.

The award-winning intergenerational art-making program, headquartered at the Scripps Gerontology Center at the University of Miami (Ohio), encourages people with dementia to rely on their imaginations (instead of memory) and to focus on their remaining strengths (instead of lost skills), enabling them to assume new roles as artists and teachers and to leave a legacy of beautiful artwork.

The program is in place at dozens of locations across the United States, from California to Massachusetts, as well as many spots across Canada. 

Some of the artwork by residents at Burgundi Manor.

YSU students Julia Carson, Paige Deems, Zoe Guzman, Kylan Harper, Autumn Hawkins, Taylor Perry, Miah Pierce and Morgan Tatsch worked with residents each week of the Fall semester, helping residents create artwork.  The program culminated earlier this month with an art show at Burgundi Manor. 

"My understanding of and my relationship with elderly people has completely changed since the start of this class,” Harper said. “I was almost nervous to have interactions with them before, but now I realize that we are all human and we all are going through something."

Deems said the project allowed students to learn about dementia beyond what can be offered in the classroom and textbooks. “You can do well in a course on paper, but you never really know until you experience it in person," Deems said.

The Sociology of Dementia class, taught by Tiffany Hughes, YSU associate professor of Gerontology, teaches the nature, causes, symptoms and social consequences of dementia, with attention to the status of aging and to the status of those living with dementia in contemporary society.