21st November 2016

Arts Based Activities for Older People

Arts Based Activities for Older People

I was delighted to be able to attend the National Care Forum Managers Conference last week. NAPA had worked with them to set up an Arts Festival within the Conference. Seeing the engagement in arts based activities by the delegates with a range of arts professionals was just amazing.

Arts and Cultural Activates ARE Attainable

All too often the arts and cultural activities are seen as something special and perhaps a bit precious, even unattainable. We hoped to break down some of these myths by offering mini tasters that allowed the managers to actively take part for 20 minutes at 3 different activity stations. The sessions on offer were broad ranging and definitely achievable by all. Music activities ranged from backing singing with live musicians to making music with hand-bells.  During this there was also chair based dancing and physical exercise routines. Conversations from reminiscence cards, play acting using resource boxes and miniature gardens flourished as did using iPads to draw portraits.

NAPA has long recognised the benefits and challenges of engaging with the arts for older people. The benefits far outweigh the challenges. Seeing people lifted out of depression or being so absorbed in something that they temporarily forget the pain they live with makes it very worthwhile. Arts based activities can be particularly useful in dementia care settings. Sometimes people can express themselves through a painting, drawing or piece of poetry better than they can verbalise.  This is particularly true when sharing feelings and emotions.

Arts Professionals in Care Settings

The use of arts professionals in care settings was high on my agenda when I travelled to do research in America and Australia last year funded by a Churchill Travelling Fellowship*. Across 28 care settings on 2 continents I found that all but one routinely used professional artists to support the residents and tenants to engage in the arts world. It seemed to be an accepted ‘norm'. In comparison, UK care settings seem reluctant to fund arts based activities.

If an activity specialist is employed on the team, they are often expected to be the expert in all fields but, despite their best intentions, most don’t have the same skills as a professionally trained artist or musician. In my experience, the best service emerges when the professional shares their skills and knowledge with the activity lead and together they support the older people to engage with the arts.

One very successful project that I was involved with in Essex used the artist to train the care team to support activities. The outcome was not only some amazing arts based projects, but carers who had the confidence to carry on the work and reports of far greater job satisfaction too.

*The full Churchill Travelling Fellowship report can be read here: Sudden Death and Activity Provision - What's the Link?.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

Topics: Activity NAPA

Sylvie Silver

Activities Specialist

Sylvie is the Executive Director of NAPA responsible for all aspects of the charities work. NAPA is recognised as the ‘thought leader’ around Activity Provision and Sylvie is the key influencer in achieving this. Sylvie‘s hands on experience was gained working in a nursing home for older people and prior to that with Adults with Learning Disabilities. Since then she has worked with, and trained, hundreds of care staff from senior management to grassroots workers to raise the profile of the importance of meaningful engagement and a life full of love and laughter. Read more

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