I recently attended an AZ Commission on the Arts/Creative Aging event in Phoenix and listened to a geriatrician talk about the state of older adults mostly in the US and an artistic director of a dance/theatre program geared towards engaging and exploring interactive approaches to keep people moving.

It seems like this term is a catch all – creative aging – and is being defined by many persons and groups based on the data that 1 in 4 adults will be over 60 by 2020 (again US estimates).

Creative Aging is a coming together of the ideas of living with purpose and joy; sustaining positive, meaningful dynamic relationships, and dealing effectively with life’s changes and challenges and where they intersect it results in a Sense of Well-Being. Is this a unique situation for just older adults? Seniors? I don’t think so!

For this synthesis to happen, it requires a relationship between three groups – aging and healthcare service providers, arts organizations and delivery agents or teaching artists who know not only their craft, but how people learn, especially older learners and how to engage, not just teach.

The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust out of Maricopa County AZ (Phoenix) is investing in an AZ Creative Aging initiative to deploy strategic programming for training, network building and the establishment of some pilot programs.

Part of this initiative is to create greater awareness on the part of the general public about the impact of quality, participatory arts experiences on health, wellness and quality of life (social connection) for older adults.

Some people I spoke with had a definitive course of structured activities for people to engage in. Others strongly felt that in a person-centered approach it was more a list of options rather than a curriculum of study and a defined path.   When I first pitched my ideas about Creative Aging for a Flagstaff ArtBox project, some of the feedback I got was ‘last thing a person in assisted living or nursing home needs/wants is another arts and crafts project that we are scheduled to participate in, no choice – Tuesday at 2 after lunch we will be making holiday ornaments or learning to crochet.’   Elders definitely know what they are interested in and what they are not, like a menu choice – chicken or beef or pizza – fat be damned!

The idea of choice is paramount to the success of this program. First let’s demonstrate and showcase the possibilities – if you would like to explore this, we’d love to have you join us at what ever level is comfortable to you at this time. Do you want to discuss this book we are reading? Do you want to listen to big band music performed by the local high school band and have room to get up and dance? Do you want a chance to learn to tango, finally after all this time? Even you and I wouldn’t want to do any or all of those activities.

How about a conversation one on one with the people we are here to engage with. What did they love to do in the past? Sing? Arrange flowers? Let them be the catalyst of ideas for engaging activities. What have they always wanted to try – scrapbooking, cooking, watercolor, ceramics?