Joy in generation
In 1988, inspired by studies that showed the benefits of art on Alzheimer's patients, scientist and sculptor Lili-Charlotte "Lolo" Sarnoff founded Arts for the Aging.
Twenty-seven years later, Arts for the Aging is a thriving nonprofit that serves more than 600 programs each year.
"Unfortunately a lot of people tend to overlook older adults, think they don't have anything to offer, or aren't valuable to society, when in fact that's not the case," said Brandi Rose, program director at AFTA.
The programs, she noted, provide social engagement and interaction for the aging clients, particularly those who might struggle to connect with others in a traditional manner, which can become a challenge for people afflicted with dementia.
"They have so many memories and thoughts," she said, "so many ways they can express themselves."
A study by the National Endowment for the Arts and George Washington University, titled “The Creativity and Aging Study: The Impact of Professionally Conducted Programs on Older Adults,” persons aged 65 – 103 who take part in a weekly participatory arts program report “better health, fewer doctor visits, and less medication usage; more positive responses on the mental health measures; (and) more involvement in overall activities.”
Arts for the Aging offers two types of programs: Joy in Generation is for seniors who are more frail, while Arts Alive! (yes, with an exclamation point) is a sequential learning series for participants who are independent and high-functioning. Disciplines include healing movement, music, dance, creative writing, and drawing and painting.
AGING AND ENGAGING
Nancy Havlik is the co-director at Quicksilver, an AFTA-sponsored dance company of people ages 65 and up. Her dancers, a few of whom are in their late 80’s, she said, often volunteer to accompany her on visits to community centers and nursing homes, where she leads workshops.
“The interaction elicits people’s creativity,” she said. “…You watch the room kind of wake up as people get into their physical bodies. You see a change in energy, not just in individuals, but in people interacting with each other.”
Teaching artists are all paid for their planning and instruction time, a reflection on founder Sarnoff’s respect for artists’ work and time.
Programs are often cross-disciplinary, with two or more teachers collaborating to create an offering that draws from multiple art forms. Havlik has enjoyed collaboration with several fellow AFTA artists, such as storytellerCandace Wolf.
“As I became more immersed with an elder population through my artistic work, I became more engaged,” Wolf said. “The elderly population in our society is really isolated overall. I was encountering so many folks who seemed to be emotionally and socially cut off from others. As I designed my programs to meet the needs of this population, it was really important not just to delight people with stories, but to try to transcend this isolation using the narrative arts.”
The collaboration she did with Nancy emphasized, she said, “the movement of language, or the language of movement.” They designed a series focused on animals – what animal do you wish you were, what animal frightens you, etc.
Both women have led classes at Friends Club, a program for men with Alzheimer’s. Candace said she’s found storytelling techniques that can help trigger some memories, while Nancy recalls visiting with musician Anthony Hyatt, and watching the men dance as Anthony played “The Waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”
"The whole room was alive, and probably in their early lives, they never imagined they would have done that," she said. "The energy had been transformed.”
About the Author: Holly Leber is the editorial director for The Daily Do Good. Upon learning about the benefits of arts programs for aging persons, she immediately emailed the information to her parents. For the, um, future.