Jan. 30, 2020

Nursing students help spread the word about aging and Alzheimer's

Opening Minds through Art project gives Calgary high schoolers a new appreciation for living with dementia – and the difference they can make

University of Calgary Nursing students, with their clinical placements each term, are uniquely engaged with the community when they develop and work on projects with not-for-profits. But in late 2019, a group of second-years extended their reach beyond their placement with the Opening Minds through Art (OMA) program at the Alzheimer Society of Calgary, connecting with students at Notre Dame High School to encourage them to volunteer with OMA.

“There are 1,800 students at this high school,” explains UCalgary Nursing instructor Amal Remu, who worked with the students on the project. “And they each have to commit to 25 hours of volunteering before they graduate. My students wanted this age group to really gain a first-hand knowledge of dementia and how OMA creates a difference in the lives of those experiencing the condition.”

OMA provides opportunities for creative self-expression and social engagement for people with dementia while enlightening volunteers who work with them about aging. The eight nursing students were each paired with a resident at Bethany Harvest Hills and helped that client express themselves through an art process.

Multimedia exhibit launched at high school

Clips from their two-month placement were captured and compiled into a short informational video describing OMA and the benefits of volunteering. The colourful paintings created by the residents were collected and hung outside the entrance to the library at Notre Dame where the nursing students held an “unveiling” event to draw attention to not only the art, but the need. High school students could scan a QR code by the mural and then view the video to find out more.

A purpose of OMA is to promote effective communication, something nursing student Maya Ida says will help people in their careers and is particularly meaningful in nursing. “I learned about the importance of building relationships with your patients and communication skills that I can use in the future.”

  • January is Alzheimer's Awareness Month. Learn more

“What resonated for me with this approach is that the nursing students were able to bridge their experience working on the art with their clients to the broader community,” comments Tracey Clancy, UCalgary Nursing’s assistant dean, faculty development. “It is not only great for our students to extend their learning, but it is promoting awareness about Alzheimer’s and aging and also the importance and rewards of volunteerism.”

Riley Martens, part of the nursing group, agrees that the practicum was valuable and encourages high school students — and others — to get involved. “I’ve had a chance to build this intergenerational friendship with my partner through art and to see things through a different perspective. I’ve really been able to change my view on dementia.”