By Dick Grillo
When older loved ones begin experiencing limitations or withdrawing from their regular routines, it can cause us anxiety. Is there a way that you can help them to stay engaged in and enjoying life?
Recent research shows that the arts have potential, not only to prolong quality of life, but for actual healing. Play music to a premature newborn and she will sleep more soundly and grow faster. ICU patients recover significantly sooner if they have a view of natural beauty. Teach journal writing to someone suffering with chronic illness and he will find less need for drugs. Reawaken the instinct to sing or dance and our elders will live longer and happier lives.
The term Arts in Healthcare is used increasingly in healthcare facilities, with many employing staff for that purpose. You can also share in the enrichment of your loved one’s life. For some older adults, all it takes is having access to the tools required for their favorite art form. For others, some encouragement will be necessary before they feel the freedom to create again. Some may be more comfortable if they are in a group setting.
Find a community center, church group or other group that encourages participation in the arts without pressure to perform perfectly. It is important to remember that not every different activity will captivate every person. Oil painting may make one person quite happy, but will overwhelm or bore another. The same goes for dancing, singing or any other activity. Often the best activities are the simplest, those that require no special skills or dexterity. Some people enjoy coloring with crayons or working with clay again. For some, listening to beautiful music is more pleasurable than trying to create it.
Be careful not to point out mistakes or require certain results, as this stifles creativity. Let the ”child within” play freely. Do you remember, as a child, simply moving to the music, without regard for how you looked to others? Or creating a masterpiece with finger paint? That is your inspiring “right brain” at work. Chances are, at that stage in your young life, you were praised by teachers and parents, not criticized. You likely only became self-conscious about “performing” when someone criticized you. Give your loved one the freedom to enjoy creating again the way they did as children. Give encouragement, not advice or correction. This is not about perfection of the art form; it is about the well-being of the person creating it. On the other hand, don’t be patronizing either. Give encouragement without treating him or her like a child. Simple encouragement like, “I’m so glad you are enjoying this,” is often all that is needed.
Research shows that music is a key ingredient in the well-being of people in long-term care settings, but arts of all kinds enhance the quality of life, not only for the resident, but also for family members and support staff. Those dealing with dementia can remember the words to songs long after memory has significantly declined in other areas. The arts can create diversions that focus attention away from difficult situations, help create a sense of accomplishment and improved self-esteem. This can lead to improved mood, greater sense of well-being and can help with emotional issues and enhance socialization. The benefits are limitless and there is no down side.
The arts can benefit caregivers too, offering stress relief and improved health. So, live in the moment with your own creative imagination. Whether you doodle, create new recipes, garden, sing in the shower, or journal, your creative expression is working its way out for your greater health and happiness, enabling you to live the happiest life you can, whatever your circumstances.
The Arts in Healthcare began at ACV in 1989. Many of our Artist Series performers do a mini performance at the nursing home and assisted living facility. Local performers share their talents on a monthly basis. Classes are taught in the arts, like painting, ceramics and woodworking—even creative writing and cooking.
It has been said that the arts are a basic ingredient to society and humanity. We are actually healthier for having participated in art making. It is no wonder that the arts have such healing power. It is when we are in the act of creating that we are embodying one of God’s attributes, for ultimately He is the Creator of all.