It was International Day of Older Persons on October 7, 2007. The World Health Organization (www.who.int) gives some surprising population statistics on aging trends. "In the next 50 years, the number of older persons will nearly quadruple, growing from about 600 million to almost 2 billion senior citizens.
Today, one in every ten is 60 years and older. By 2050, one out of every five will be an older person, and by 2150, one third of the people in the world are expected to be 60 years of age or older". That's a seriously high number of individuals officially classified as 'elderly' whilst still in their 60s! I was at a seminar at the weekend where the audience were asked to suggest what 'middle-aged' might mean and the majority suggested that 50+ was considered more appropriate than the 35+ often referred to some years back. Increasingly - and rightly so, able individuals are 'miffed' to find that 'elderly' in some medical circles falls into the 60+ age range.
Subsequently, the activities being offered to these groups mirror our institutions' view of what is traditionally seen as appropriate for 'the older person'. There have been many comments in the news recently of archaic images associated with this section of our population. Road safety signs of physically infirm elderly persons being used to allocate parking places for the over 60's. The majority of this age group would be happy to run a mile (if they were able) from such stereotypes, but may well favor the opportunity of a free parking space! That aside, International Day of Older Persons is, for me, an opportunity to focus on the creative activities I offer and to question my own approach to why, and how I offer recreational activities. Entering a search term into Google shows that the majority of searches for activities for an aging population still incorporate the words 'elderly', along with 'recreational', 'therapy', and 'benefits'. These terms alone signify that arts and crafts in particular fall into separate categories: 1.
Activities that might be appropriate for older persons - whatever stereo-typical bracket society deems it. 2. Activities that are seen to offer individual and group benefits - such as the 70s buzz word of spices - social, physical, intellectual cultural and emotional. Those searching for activities of this nature are more than likely institution-based and require arts and crafts activities that will engage both mind and body.
My experience however has been that such places are often looking for 'things to do', rather than search out challenging, stretching and engaging activities that will specifically suit individuals in their group. Perhaps the challenge here is in training our carers in such places into what exactly constitutes recreation and therapy and what's just as important as What to do, is Why do it in the first place? What's important to those of us who work with older people - however they, the Government of the day or we ourselves categorize it is to think about 3 basic issues for EACH individual that we are working with: 1. Why should we offer arts and crafts - or any nature in the first place? 2. What type of activity would suit the individual and the group? 3.
How can we structure it so that it gives maximum benefit - on all fronts, to those involved? When I was training as a primary school teacher, later specializing in teaching the older person and those with physical challenges, there was never any focus on Why crafts. That was up to me, in my role as a wandering trainer to establish. These days there are many excellent activity organizer programs to undertake, and sadly even more less than helpful courses, workshops and books offered by those who may have done some training, but sadly haven't walked the walk. I urge you, in whatever level of activity you are involved, to really take this opportunity to question how you see your role, what you do, and why you do it.
Whatever part you play in teaching, managing or assisting in activities, it is your role to make whatever you do as valuable as possible. Creative activities aren't all paste and paper. There are some wonderful projects to try and great results to be gained from those who are prepared to be reflective in their practice and to question their work a la Rudyard Kipling's famous maxim - I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and why and When And How and Where and Who. As you plan your creative program, consider how you might serve those you work with. It'll help you question how you prepare for and deliver future 'activities for the elderly'.
Geraldine Jozefiak has written many activity books and craft manuals to help you with your activity program. The Craft Teacher has many ideas and step by step instructions for recreational, therapy and fun crafts, designed to take the strain out of what-to-do and how-to-do-it. http://www.the-craft-teacher.com