Occupational therapy (OT) can look different depending on a patient’s needs, but the main goal remains the same: improve the quality of life through supporting their ability to engage in and perform daily life activities. OT services directed towards patients with memory challenges aims to provide cognitive stimulation exercises and address physical and mental well-being. Four University of Findlay Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) students experienced the positive impact OT can have on individuals with memory challenges by painting with residents at The Legacy in The Heritage, using children’s books as inspiration. Throughout the course of the semester, the students also learned the value in community partnerships as Awakening Minds Art, The Legacy, and the Mazza Museum all collaborated with the Occupational Therapy Program on the project.
Learning through Community Collaboration
Assistant professor in University of Findlay’s OT Program Lindsey Buddelmeyer’s class of four, Brooke Wallace, Amy Harley, Michaela Pinzone, and Deep Mehta, spent the semester learning about community partners involved and how they collaborate to make a difference in someone’s quality of life in the OT Program’s Research in Action course. This course allows students to apply knowledge about the research process learned in previous courses by immersing them in a “live” project. They were a part of the exploratory phase of the research design. The research question they sought to answer was “What is occupational therapy’s role in utilizing art activities when working with clients who have memory challenges?” Before working one-on-one with the residents, the students toured and learned about each of the community partners. Then, they wrote literature reviews focusing on topics within the realm of what they would eventually be doing: dementia, socialization, art, and well-being.
During the second half of the semester, students worked one-on-one with the residents each week. The students worked with patients who have low, middle, and high cognitive functioning because Buddelmeyer wanted the students to have experience working with a wide variety of patients. “Every time they have an onsite, they work with a different patient,” Buddelmeyer said. “I wanted them to see those variables in terms of function, and then ask themselves how they would adapt and meet the patient where they’re at.”
Each one-on-one session had a general structure that the students followed. They read a children’s book, discussed the inspiration for their painting, and then painted their picture with guidance from Awakening Minds Art. Buddelmeyer noted that while this was the general structure, every session was different depending on the resident. “That’s very OT to adapt and grade down to whatever the client’s level is and whatever that looks like,” Buddelmeyer said. “Sometimes they find something specifically in the book to paint, but there another time where we had one of the residents talk about remembering that she used to have a garden and it wasn’t in the illustrations or story of the book. So, we have iPads to look up images and we adapt.”
Origins of the Research Course
The semester-long research course was adapted as a result of a project Buddelmeyer worked on last spring. She partnered with Awakening Minds Art to help a patient and family facing Alzheimer’s disease depict the impact of OT through painting. The painting was then put on display in the Mazza Museum. After this experience, Buddelmeyer asked herself, “How could I do this with my research group?”
Buddelmeyer began brainstorming with Mazza Museum Director Ben Sapp, who suggested doing a project similar to what Awakening Minds Art does with children with autism, where they read books and paint something inspired by the book. They decided to choose the books of the authors and illustrators that would be attending the Mazza’s Summer Conference the following year.
The Impact of OT on Students and Community
At the end of the course, the students presented their findings in the Mazza Museum, where the residents’ paintings were put on display. They shared examples of how painting with individuals with dementia helps regain a sense of self, decrease feelings of sadness, and improve overall self-esteem.
The students not only learned how to work with the dementia population, but they also broke down stereotypes and overcame any nerves they had. “This is a community that a lot of students can be nervous to work with,” Buddelmeyer said. “They aren’t sure how it’s going to go.” MOT student Brooke Wallace said through this experience she has become more open to the idea of working with this population after she graduates. “I think it’s easy for a lot of people to be more afraid of this population because there’s a lot of unknown about it, but this experience really helps break down those barriers,” Wallace said.
Wallace also said this experience has helped her practice the OT concept of grading and adapting, as well as communication. “It’s helped shape my career,” Wallace said. “Not only am I learning how to communicate better with this population, but just in general. I’m learning how to be clearer with my words.” Through the activity the residents were able to reflect and reminisce on their life, which is known to enhance well-being, increase social participation and provide opportunities for self-expression. “It is an impactful experience to see the residents smile, laugh, and reminisce about their life,” Wallace said. “One time I talked with one of the residents and it was like he was back in that place he was remembering.”
On Wednesday, Dec. 11, residents from The Legacy gathered with their families at University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum to see the artwork they created with OT students over the course of the fall semester. Wayne Riegle, The Legacy neighborhood floor director, said it was very impactful for both the residents and the families to see the end product they were able to create. “When most people think of dementia, they think of a nursing home where everyone is sat around the TV, but that’s not what dementia is,” Riegle said. “It’s a multi-faceted thing for people who are high functioning who can still participate in daily life and then there’s people who are lower functioning, but they still need that connection and that human connection. They need something to give them that purpose and we try to give purpose to people.”
University of Findlay is not only a place for students to learn through doing and experiencing new things, it is also an institution that values community partnerships that can benefit our students and the community. To learn more about University of Findlay’s OT Program, visit www.findlay.edu/ot. Learn more about the Mazza Museum at www.mazzamuseum.org. View more photos of the students and residents working on and presenting the paintings at https://flic.kr/s/aHsmK7bPeA.