Arts and the Age Wave

You’ve seen them –  big pharma ads for brain health, chronic disease management, joint health and other age-related conditions.  More ads for home health care, skilled nursing care and assisted living.  The industry that serves the aged is booming – and what’s more, the trend will continue as 10,000 people will retire every day, through 2030.  Another trend worth noting: medical care will allow many more of us to live to our 80’s, 90’s and beyond, many in frail physical condition and with chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart condition and dementia.

We have to ask ourselves:  what will quality of life be like for us when we reach our final years?  How will we want to spend our time and who will we spend it with?

A friend recently downsized his mother-in-law from her two bedroom apartment to a very nice room at one of the best assisted living communities in Tidewater.  From his account, it was a traumatic, devastating and humiliating experience for this parent.  Like her, we too will lose most of our loved ones, our possessions, our ability to do many of the things we once took for granted.  Like her, we will need to find ways to spend our time that give us pleasure, create a sense of purpose, and provide us opportunities for closure.  If we are lucky, younger people will look up to us for the wisdom we have acquired over the years.

Studies throughout the Commonwealth indicate the numbers of health professionals will not keep pace with the elders needing care.  Staff turnover rates of home care workers is above 60% nationally; staff turnover rates in assisted living and nursing care averages 40%.  These high numbers result in lower quality of care and higher care costs for everyone.  How will we fix this?  Why should we care?

Part of the solution lies in more community engagement in the lives of our eldest neighbors, family and friends.  For the growing numbers of people living with dementia, part of the solution lies in appropriate, satisfying, socializing arts engagement activities, like singing, art-making and dancing.

These creative processes provide elders with emotional outlets for creative self-expression.  Creative engagement puts us into a state of being emotionally, physically and intellectually absorbed in a process.  This powerful state enhances wellness and also helps us engage socially with people across the spectrum. That’s where even more benefits come into play, as caregivers, family members and others join in with the elder in these powerful, health-inducing processes.

Inter-generational arts programs use the arts to connect children with elders, for example.  Singing together, painting together, etc., bypass limitations and allows us to play to our strengths.  Creative self-expression allows others to see the values we hold most dear, the traits that make us uniquely us.

Old age, death and dying are as natural as living.  Singing, dancing and art-making have occurred since time immemorial.  Let’s acknowledge the truths and do the work of serving the least among us through compassionate, creative engagement.

To get started, we’ve compiled resources on our website and at our office.  Google and you-tube turn up more and better information every day.  And we’re offering the first in our series of staff-led artist and caregiver training, “Singing for Elder Health and Wellness” on March 1 at Harbor’s Edge.  We hope to see you there.