Connecting seniors through the arts
“You don’t have to be artistic to be creative,” boasts the website of Paint Nite, a social arts group gaining popularity around the world. Amateur artists are rediscovering their inner Picassos and developing new friendships by adding art to their social activities. Fans of Paint Nite realize art isn’t just about the final product. Exercising creativity is a reward in itself, and practicing with others can forge unique bonds.
The benefits of an “art night” can be even more profound with socially isolated seniors. Social isolation is a challenge for tenants who live alone, or who are separated from their peers. Without supportive family or frequent interactions, people can feel lonely and may be unwilling to access care or support.
A recent study in the Canadian Journal of Aging, by Trent University researcher Dr. Ann McLeod, found that the arts are effective tools for reducing social isolation. The study looked at a volunteer art program that paired older adults who were socially isolated with older volunteers. The pairs participated in a 10-week expressive art program, where they created art together and documented their experiences. One leader supervised the entire project, and checked in with the volunteers on a regular basis.
This program emerged out of an increasing awareness that older adults are interested in volunteering, and that there is a connection between healthy aging and creativity. During weekly visits, the pairs built relationships, and the isolated adults talked about past experiences and current challenges.
Ultimately, those who participated in the program were moved by the opportunity. Their rapport increased, and some of the pairs even continued to visit after the study. Boosting isolated peoples’ confidence in maintaining relationships promotes feelings of self-worth and dignity. All of the participants reported feeling more positive about their ability to participate in personal development and self-improvement practices as they age.
If your building has a common area, consider hosting your own art night. Inexpensive materials can be found at dollar stores and large variety stores. You can save money on canvasses by using re-using paintings found at thrift stores and garage sales, or get really creative by adding flair to old flower pots and other household items. Good quality paint brushes will make the process easier and more enjoyable. Be sure to clean and properly store them after use to help them last longer. Most importantly, encourage your seniors to display and share their creations. A unique work of art will always spark a conversation!