Ballenas Secondary School student Anika Bach and resident at The Gardens Evelyn Scanlan worked together for eight weeks as part of the first ever Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) program at The Gardens. (Emily Vance photo)

Ballenas Secondary School student Anika Bach and resident at The Gardens Evelyn Scanlan worked together for eight weeks as part of the first ever Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) program at The Gardens. (Emily Vance photo)

Students and patients with dementia team up to make art in Qualicum Beach

‘You become a happy place for that person’

Ballenas Secondary student Anika Bach wasn’t sure what to expect when she signed up for Vancouver Island’s first installment of Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) at The Gardens in Qualicum Beach.

The eight-week program connect patients with dementia with a student from a local school to work one-on-one together and create artwork.

The facility hosted an exhibit for the residents’ creations on Dec. 5 after what recreation manager Amy Kivell calls a successful first run of the program at the Qualicum Beach facility.

“In my opinion it went really well. It was really great to see – one of the goals is to kind of break down some barriers, or bridge that gap around ageism. So watching the students develop a relationship with some of our older adults over the period of the eight weeks was really rewarding to see,” said Kivell.

Bach learned about the program through an information session at Ballenas Secondary School. After going through some training, she was paired up with Gardens resident Evelyn Scanlan.

As Bach progressed through the program, she says she quickly realized that it wasn’t just about meeting up once a week to make art.

“You form a relationship with that person, you develop a friendship, and you become a happy place for that person. They’re genuinely happy to see you, they look forward to seeing you, they form a connection,” said Bach.

“I kind of thought that it would be something that I would enjoy, but I didn’t really realize that I would end up loving it as much as I do.”

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The program also teaches the students about the science behind dementia, so they can gain a deeper understanding of what their art partner might be going through.

The goals of the program are to promote social engagement, autonomy and dignity of people living with dementia through creative self-expression.

Bach initially thought that Scanlan wouldn’t remember her, but she was surprised.

“As the weeks went on, I could tell that she was really happy to see me. … She would be sitting outside, and she would see me, and she would instantly want to come over and say hi,” said Bach.

Kivell said she watched several transformations take place with residents living with dementia during the course of the program.

Prior to the program, one woman spent most her days quite distressed – often crying and calling out. Kivell wasn’t sure how well she would respond to the program.

After a few sessions, once the woman realized that art class was coming up, she would calm down, and the stressed behaviours would stop.

“It was amazing to watch. Initially the student and her didn’t really have a relationship, and as the weeks went on, it was interesting to see the relationship build, and so much so that the resident was actually initiating conversation with the student,” said Kivell.

Going forward, The Gardens will host the inter-generational program twice per year – once in the fall, and once in the spring. The next OMA session runs from Jan. 22 to March 25, 2020.

Bach says that she recommends the program to anyone who may be curious.

“You learn a lot, and you really do form a connection with the people you work with. It’s a good experience, I’d really recommend it for people to try,” said Bach.