Unlocking Creative Older Age
Lots of older people maintain a healthy and happy life into old age. Old age is not an illness, but ageing is a real process, which throws up hurdles to leading a fulfilling life. Increasing numbers of single households and the hazards of navigating major life transitions can trigger loneliness amongst older people.
Loneliness has been under addressed in the support given to older people. If you compare the care plan drafted for a younger disabled person with that of an older person the most profound difference will be how they address the need for social connectedness. For a young person, this will be a major component of their care plan, for an older person it hardly features. Perhaps because expectations for wellbeing and quality of life in old age are depressingly low.
The UK Campaign to End Loneliness has been using research to raise awareness of the impact of loneliness on health; lacking social connections is a comparable risk for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and has a worse impact than obesity and lack of exercise. By highlighting this risk we also illuminate the impact of not addressing loneliness early enough.
The argument for prevention is that acting sooner saves money later, before needs become more complex and costly. But the ethos of prevention needs to be founded on a person centred philosophy which enables people to have choice and control, fosters reciprocity and the exchange of skills and which goes beyond a clinical model of ageing which assumes that social care or health interventions are the only answer. We need a more rounded approach which of course includes personal care, befriending and circles of support but which also considers faith and spirituality, active ageing and fitness, learning, volunteering and enjoyment of music and the arts.
At the Baring Foundation we believe that the arts and cultural engagement can be integral to good quality care and wellbeing in terms of:
- better understanding individuals' identity and needs,
- reaching users with complex needs and barriers to communication,
- creating community and connections between isolated older people,
- enhancing the overall working environment for people working with older people,
- releasing the creativity, passion and the voice of older people,
- enriching practice for artists and care workers.
Our approach has been to fully understand the environment of arts practice with older people and to enrich our grant-making with policy and research, investing in a cohort of creative practitioners and working in partnership to encourage other funders into the arena. We have worked with exemplary programmes - from story-telling, visual arts, ceramics, photography, digital arts, film, radio, dance, drama, poetry, singing.
- Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and a housing association leading multi-media arts, film and photography workshops and gallery visits and building a digital community,
- Arts in hospitals - visual arts workshops in a variety of hospital and care settings in greater Glasgow, including trips to galleries and museums and exhibitions to showcase the works and transform hospital environments,
- Equal Arts - working with people with dementia - visual arts, horticulture, dance, movement and music with family and community events (plus fundraising by the friends group)
- Ladder to the moon - a social enterprise using the arts to train care workers to improve their services. Transforms the care setting into a Hollywood studio to re-make a classic film involving residents, relatives and staff and then provides feedback and learning from training activities to reflect on care workers motivation.
- Sage Gateshead - 'Silver linings' project bringing singing into care homes for people with dementia and their carers.
Of course there are still many challenges to bringing the arts to isolated older people. Most critical is how to reach the hardest to reach - so our approach has been to try to support activities that bring the arts into many of the everyday settings used by older people and thinking hard about how to overcome hesitation, lack of confidence and belief amongst participants.
But we also need to recognise issues of diversity - one size does not fit all - respecting choice, control and consent (allowing older people to make their own choices about whether to engage), ensuring mutual respect and empowerment, not 'doing the arts to' older people.
It is also crucial that where the arts are introduced in housing and care settings that leadership from the very top embeds organisational commitment, and that arts practitioners are well trained to understand how to work with older people within the ethos of person centred care, and that thought is given to how to creatively demonstrate value and impact to be sustainable.
Despite the many challenges, when programmes work well - and we have seen so many varied activities that really do - the sheer passion, joy and creativity that they unlock is truly inspirational.
Janet is Chief Executive of Independent Age UK (www.independentage.org) - a national advice, befriending and advocacy organisation in the UK for older people in need - which campaigns on issues affecting independence in old age, including health and social care, benefits and isolation and loneliness. As such, Janet is also a founder and management group member of the Campaign to End Loneliness - a coalition of over 1,000 organisations - which has led the way in raising awareness of loneliness in old age and promoting what works to address it.
Janet is also Chairman of the Baring Foundation, the principal philanthropic funding body for creative ageing initiatives in the UK. Janet is a member of their Strengthening the Voluntary Sector Committee and the Arts Committee - which is currently funding an arts and older people program, focussing on the role of arts practice in preventive and care home settings.
Janet was previously Deputy Chief Executive of NESTA - the National Endowment for Science Technology, which pioneered creativity and innovation in the UK.
Prior to NESTA, Janet was senior adviser on UK Policy at the BBC between 1997 and 1999 and before that worked for seven years at NCVO - the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, where she was Director of Policy and Research.Back