One Is the Loneliest
A NY Times article by Paula Span talked about the dangers of isolation and loneliness in older adults. Ms. Span cites research at the University of California, San Francisco which found that those who reported loneliness were more likely to develop difficulties with activities of daily living. Of those surveyed that reported loneliness, 23 percent died within six years as compared to 14 percent of those that weren’t lonely.
It’s true that as we get older we suffer more losses-children move away, spouses die, friends relocate, or pass away, and mobility often becomes compromised.
One of the values of Creative Aging programming, especially in the Lifetime Arts model, is that the sequential and skill building nature of these programs promotes meaningful social interaction. This is particularly true in contrast to many arts programs designed for older adults which tend to be one-off events or passive entertainment. These lack the potential for people to get to know each other or come together around a goal of creating something new.
Often times when I speak to people or groups about the relative benefits of these two approaches I try to harken back to a time when they may have worked collectively on a project toward a particular goal. It’s particularly apt if they have the experience in some performing art, but it could apply to a sporting endeavor, or designing an app. The bonds that result from working toward a goal together, perhaps failing but pressing on and continuing, have tremendous resilience. And it’s not just the successes. The people in my life that I stayed friends with the longest are those that I worked on community theatre projects with. Many of the things best remembered and which we can laugh about (now) are the failures both big and small (I have quite a few stories myself).
A large-scale example of how well this works is EngAGE in Southern California. EngAGE offers affordable housing to older adults centered on art-making. It’s the Burbank Senior Artist Colony, a first-of-its-kind 141-unit senior apartment community that offers art and creativity as the core physical and intellectual unifying amenity. The community features a theater group, independent film company, fine arts collective, music program, intergenerational arts program with the Burbank Unified School District. Led by its founder Tim Carpenter, EngAGE is instituting this model around the country and demonstrating that congregated living for older adults has exciting and life-affirming possibilities.
Artwork by Lisa Curran