Monday, October 3, 2011

Culture for the Health of It

Image via Decca Records

I came across this article in the National Post titled Art for Life's Sake: The Health Benefits of Culture (click the totle for the jump to the article). The discussion is about the differences in health, satisfaction, anxiety, and depression scores in the elderly who are involved with cultural activities and those who are not. As the author, Dr. James Aw, states the science of this is not hardcore but the evidences are pretty compelling. In a nutshell, early research is indicating that participation in cultural activities, whether you create or consume (observe) is good for you. There are some interesting gender differences but, as they say, "It's all good." I strongly encourage you to click over to the article- it's an easy and intriguing read.

Image by Olds College via Flickr

Once you read the article, you will naturally ask yourself, "How can I take this information and put it to work in my facility for my residents?" I keep copping out by saying that you know your residents best and will know how to do that. You may be able to introduce a cultural series (or several) with great success and very little coaxing. Hands-on groups creating crafts, music, paintings, plays, field trips to the museum and so forth are a few examples. We know that some people (of all ages) dig in their heels when you say "cultural activity" so some of us may need to "sneak" in some culture by starting with consumption type activities: listening to music with an instructional type discussion, art appreciation groups, trips to watch a play, a variety of music played quietly in the background during groups. Perhaps you could start with cultural activities centered on your geographic location- clogging dancers in Appalachia, Native American art in the southwest, Mongolian throat singing if you're in Mongolia. You get what I mean. Then build upon that exposure by introducing related cultural activities.

For example, maybe you could start with a discussion on clogging, a traditional Appalachian dance, and show a couple of videos. This video of clog dancing (remember Jed Clampett) is interesting because it is in someone's home and the participants are not professionals. If this video doesn't make you want to get up and stomp your feet, you must be asleep and whenever I've shown it in my facility, every toe is tapping. How many of your folks talk about rolling back the carpet to dance? Though our carpet didn't roll back, we used to have spontaneous dance sessions to all kinds of music in my home with my daughter when she was young. This is a type of cultural activity that is very familiar to people in my part of the world and was very accessible to many of them as they were growing up. Did you notice two interesting things about this 1964 video? The television was off and the participants were very proficient, even some of the very young. If you have access, you could schedule a clogging group to come to your facility within a few days after this first group program. Then, for the next session, you could move on to a discussion about some of the things that influenced clogging. My area was settled by Irish, Scottish, Dutch-German, and English so I might say, "Well, clogging, which we are all familiar with, was influenced in part by Irish folk dancing" which would launch into videos and discussion about Irish Step Dancing...

...which of course is most popularly know by the Riverdance group. Or, I could stay with Appalachian music but move the discussion for the next group time to the instruments and invite various musicians in to play and discuss their particular instrument.

BUT... the nature and "worldly-ness" of the elderly in my area has begun to change from when I first started working in Activities, way back during the last Ice Age. So I just might be able to say, "Today's Music Appreciation group is on Mongolian Throat Singers. Let's rock."

How much cool stuff is there in the world?

The article makes two very good points. One is that "culture" is a wide open definition. Cultural dance may be ballet, modern interpretive, or square dancing depending upon where you live and even your interests and past experiences. Cultural music may be symphonic, jazz, or bluegrass. Art may be realistic representative, outsider art, or modern abstract painting. It's all about the creative expression, not necessarily the precise form. The other point is that we don't need to live in Washington DC to view (consume) the paintings housed in the Museum of Modern Art. We don't need to live in New York City to go to the symphony. Many museums and organizations have their exhibits available on their websites, available for download, or for purchase. Public libraries are a great resource for videos and DVDs. Set up an informal, rotating gallery in your facility and invite residents, staff, and family members to submit artwork, photography, or poems. Discuss and challenge your residents with this informal gallery. The submitted work doesn't have to be "professional. Again, it's about the creative process, not necessarily the finished work. And did you know that some theater chains such as Hollywood Theaters also show musical performances, lectures, and Broadway productions, not just the latest movie releases? Call them, ask them, you might even be able to get discounted tickets for your senior citizens.

Image by Ralph Bassfeld via Flickr

But another question that Dr. Aw's article brings to my mind is, "How can I incorporate these findings into my life?" Cultural activities as a stress-buster? Bring it on! So I would encourage, even challenge, each of you to think about how you can begin to enrich your own lives with cultural activities that you can carry into your senior years. It doesn't have to be a big deal- go to high school plays if you don't have access to a professional theater. Turn the radio dial off of the top-40 station (please, no more of the same 10 songs for 8 months!) and listen to a classical station one day on your way home and maybe jazz the next, just as a starting point. Take a ceramics class or ballet for adult beginners. Read a book that is outside of your normal preferences such as a classic novel. Start slow, go with a variety, keep an open mind. Start now with developing a healthy cultural life that will carry you graciously into your senior years. If we want our residents to try new things, attend new activities, and have a rich life then we need to nurture that willingness in our own lives. We don't have to like everything. I'm not sure I would listen to Mongolian throat singing every night after dinner but it is some really interesting music and part of me is better from the experience of learning. It's part of taking care of yourself, the part of you that is separate from your professional life and relationships that refreshes and enriches. I know, a whole conversation about separation, or not, of personal and professional life could ensue but we're just not going to go there today.

Image via

Anyway, go check out the article by clicking the link in the title of the article at the top of this post- it's very interesting. I would love to hear how you've incorporated cultural programs into your facility life and your personal life as well as what the impact of doing so has been.

Thanks so much for visiting today.
See ya again "when things slow down"  wink wink

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