Aging should be thought of as a creative time. Getting older can be a time for new adventures, travels, and even trying new things such as art or music. With the help of family members, it can also be a time to creatively solve problems when mobility or health concerns arise.
The late Dr. Gene Cohen, founder of the Washington, D.C. Center on Aging at the George Washington University, as well as head of the National Institute on Aging, held that creativity plays a very important role in aging because creativity is the expression of potential. The key to aging with family is to find creative ways that promote an older person’s potential to live well.
Families should welcome the independence
There is a rapidly growing trend towards healthy living and away from medical treatment as a first option. People don’t want to go to the doctor if they can help it, and a healthier, active lifestyle promotes independence so that people can stay out of institutionalized care as well. Families should welcome the independence that a mentally, physically, and emotionally active lifestyle can afford an older member of the family and participate in some of the healthful activities along with their senior.
With enough family and community support, people can age well in ways undreamed of in the past. For example, there are many resources available today for older people in the area of physical health through exercise.
Here are some creative ideas that might be available through local community programs. Doing them together can knit families closer as they participate to encourage the independence and happiness of a beloved elder family member.
- Tai Chi: This form of martial arts is quickly becoming popular among elderly citizens, but it is not limited to older people. It is a low impact exercise that improves balance and strength, particularly in the core. This helps to prevent the dangerous falls that so often debilitate seniors for long periods of time or permanently. Tai Chi can improve confidence and provide a platform for social interaction, which is important to psychological and brain health.
- Swimming: The benefits of swimming make this a very classic choice that is often forgotten in the fast-paced society we live in. Swimming is easier on the joints than walking and is associated with improved heart health. Researchers from Italy and New York worked together on a study of cardiovascular health in the elderly. They found that participants who swam saw a vast improvement in their vascular function, along with decreased blood pressure. They also found that older adults who were not currently exercising benefited the most from swimming.
Swimming can be a creative activity on many fronts, from choosing a new bathing suit, learning new exercises in a class, and even learning a new stroke.
Gay Hanna and Susan Perlstein have been leading a great effort in stirring awareness of how aging and the arts fit in the “graying” trend of America. They affirm that creativity is a lifelong pursuit and helps offset the complications of aging by keeping the person engaged on multiple levels.
The creative arts have gained momentum as an important source for emotional and physical health. Local universities and even music schools are beginning to offer programs of all skill levels for the aging. Many local colleges offer free art exhibits and even workshops for those aged 65 and older. It is a great way to feel connected to the community and to see famous works of past, present, and up-and-coming artists.
Pottery classes: Learning how to mold clay may take perseverance, but learning something together with an aging loved one can enrich the relationship and give it a renewed meaning. There hasn’t been any recent research into the art of pottery throwing on a wheel, but Lee Doric-Henry, author of the book Art Therapy with Older Adults, found that participants experienced improvements in depression, anxiety, and even self-esteem over the course of an eight week pottery intervention at a nursing home in Michigan.
Young relatives may find lifelong interests sparked as they participate in creative pursuits with beloved elderly family members.
Aging in Place with Family—Creative Solutions
Some families and homes are not easily adaptable to the presence of an elderly loved one, yet without family nearby, many older people have no choice but to enter an institution. Creative solutions are called for, and as the global population continues to age, such solutions are blossoming.
For example, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are spaces on a property converted into a livable, self-standing space. An ADU may be part of a main home, such as an addition or a basement being converted into an apartment. Others are free-standing, such as a garage or other outbuilding on a property being converted into a dwelling.
The U.S. Department of Urban and Housing Development (HUD) thinks ADUs are great, because they save cities so much money, they are inexpensive for consumers, and they may be used by the elderly or disabled who need family support nearby yet not necessarily in the same building. ADUs do not call for changed infrastructure in a city like regular buildings do; they are accessed by the existing roads and structures and hook up to existing energy and water sources.
Because tiny homes are considered impermanent structures…
Tiny houses are another creative solution to housing an aging family member close to home—even in the backyard! Tiny houses are affordable and compact by definition. More and more companies are constructing single level ones with plenty of handbars to ensure the safety of the elderly tiny home dweller. Because tiny homes are considered impermanent structures, and, because they are on wheels may even be considered travel trailers, they do not generate property tax bills and can be legally parked in many places.
Similar to tiny houses are “medical cottages,” which are specifically designed for people with infirmities who, due to aging or other causes, should not live entirely on their own (that is, without caregivers on the same property). These small cottages provide everything an elderly person needs for independence, including a monitoring system that can alert relatives in the “big house” nearby of any health alarms.
Aging well calls for creative solutions on all fronts. A united and loving family can certainly access many innovative community responses to the need for creative aging with family.
Accessory Dwelling Units: Case Study. (June 2008). U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Office of Policy Development and Research. Prepared by Sage Computing. Available online at http://www.huduser.gov/portal/publications/adu.pdf.
Cohen, Gene, D. (2006). Research on Creativity and Aging: the Positive Impact of the Arts on Health and Illness. Generations, XXX(1): 7-15. Available at http://www.peopleandstories.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/RESEARCH-ON-CREATIVITY-AND-AGING1.pdf. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
Doric-Henry, Lee. (2004). “Pottery Making on a Wheel with Older Adult Nursing Home Residents.” Art Therapy with Older Adults. Rebecca C. Perry Magniant, editor. Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, Publishers, Ltd. Available at https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=epTu1FObZAIC&oi=fnd&pg=PA5&dq=pottery+and+elderly&ots=BTQNIzV4CD&sig=7QYjqkkSW7OaUiXBkvVZrrKfIqk#v=onepage&q=pottery%20and%20elderly&f=false. Last Visited April 20, 2016.
Hanna, G., Perlstein, S. (September 2008). Creativity Matters: Arts and Aging in America. Monograph. Americans for the Arts. Available at http://www.giarts.org/sites/default/files/Monograph_Creativity-Matters-Arts-and-Aging-in-America.pdf. Last Visited April 20, 2016.
Santulli, G., Ciccarelli, M., Trimarco, B., and Iaccarino, G. (August 12, 2013). Physical activity Ameliorates Cardiovascular Health in Elderly Subjects: the Functional Role of the β Adrenergic System. Frontiers in Physiology, 4. Available at http://scholar.googleusercontent.com/scholar?q=cache:S1epF_kkWFUJ:scholar.google.com/+benefits+of+swimming+for+elderly&hl=en&as_sdt=0,11&as_ylo=2012. Last Visited April 20, 2016.