The Art of Being Elderly
Jan Gay and Kathryn Pettit, founders of Sustaining the Person Within, an art programme for the elderly, may have underestimated the positive impact of their work. The visual artists launched the lottery funded art courses in September 2012 as a opportunity for residential homes and day centres.
“Placed in un-stimulating environments with limitations in what they can physically do has meant that suddenly life has lost any purpose, their identities have been taken away.” says Jan.
During creative activity like art, the brain goes into an altered state. Perhaps you can remember a time when you were engaged in an activity like cooking or exercising, or even driving. You might notice that you go into a kind of daydream, a state often referred to as the “zone” - the creative version of this state is called “flow”. In zone and flow states the brain is between theta and delta levels. Theta is a pre-sleep dreamlike state; the brain in theta is a hypnosis state, most open to suggestion, being receptive to learning or building confidence for example. While the elderly participants of Sustaining the Person Within paint, draw and work with other media, they are not only making social connections - they are also probably in the creative “flow” state of possibility that can alert positive thinking. Until the age of about nine, you may have believed in Father Christmas, or your potential to fly like a fairy or Superman, your brain easily accessing theta-hypnotic state which stimulates imagination and belief in your potential.
Art has been a tool of communication for thousands of years, and it often reflects emotion within the individual. Art therapy as a recognised discipline has been in Britain for about twenty years and in America since the 1970’s. Though Sustaining the Person Within is not art therapy per se, Jan and Kathryn both appreciate the therapeutic nature of the sessions. The classes are not “add-ons”, but rather integrated into everyday elderly life. The creative “flow” experience is just as valuable to the elderly as it is to nine year olds, and to everyone in between. It doesn’t end when the sessions are over.
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