Guest Blog: Dancing through life: Participation in a dance training program for community-based older adults with multiple medical comorbidities issues

By Kate Dupuis

Dance is one of the oldest art forms, with depictions of dancers dating back over 30,000 years. Even if we think that we have “two left feet”, when a favourite song comes on the radio, it is hard not to tap our toes or dance along in our seats. Throughout our lifespan, dance can help us to connect with others, express our emotions, and strengthen our bodies. Indeed, dance has many potential benefits as we age. Research has shown that, as we age, dance can benefit cognitive health (for example, improvements in memory and processing speed when remembering fancy footwork during ballroom dancing, or trying to keep up with the caller’s instructions when square dancing), physical health (increased strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance), mental well-being (reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression), and social well-being (developing connections with others through dance, making new friends, getting to know the instructor). The physical benefits of dance may be particularly crucial for those older adults with mobility issues who may be at a heightened risk of falls. While many communities offer dance programs, these may not account for or provide accommodations for individuals who are experiencing multiple medical comorbidities, including mobility challenges.

At the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, we are currently conducting a research study in which community-dwelling older adults with mobility issues and at least two other medical comorbidities (e.g., high blood pressure, vision loss) are participating in 12 weeks of twice-weekly dance instruction. The sessions are led by a professionally-trained dance instructor, who has taken the time to understand each participant’s strengths and challenges, and makes specific accommodations for each of the dancers depending on their needs. We spoke with Pat Spadafora, the Director of the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research, who said that “the decision was made to hire a professionally-trained dancer in order to capitalize on the extensive repertoire of material from her own training and performances which she can draw upon for inspiration and instruction during the sessions. In addition, professionally-trained dancers understand the biomechanics and anatomy involved in dance, which results in these teachers being able to make a wide variety of accommodations for their participants.” These accommodations are necessary and welcome for our participants.

The dance instructor, Paula Skimin, reports that she has seen remarkable improvements in the participants over the course of the program, including improvements in balance, stability, and “developing a knowledge of their skeleton and skeletal structure, which allows for more stability.” She stated that, from a social perspective, the participants have become comfortable sharing with one another, and that many have cried during class when specific songs have touched them. She has worked to “create a safe space where people feel comfortable to express themselves and to share about their past, present, and future.”

At the end of the 12 weeks, the researcher will meet with each of the participants individually to discuss their perspective on the program. Many of them have already expressed a desire to continue with their dancing. We hope that, with new evidence to support the provision of dance training for individuals with multiple medical comorbidities, we will be able to offer similar programs in the future!

Kate Dupuis is the new Schlegel Innovation Leader in Arts and Aging at Sheridan College. She studies how participation in the creative and performing arts can serve to enhance the wellbeing of older adults. In particular, Kate is interested in discovering the personal characteristics of individuals who are drawn to participate in the arts, and identifying the physical, psychological, social, and systemic barriers to participation.


Arts and Aging: 5 Unconventional Means of Artistic Expression

Studies suggest that active participation in the creative and performing arts impacts the quality of life of adults 65+ by providing social, physical and emotional benefits. Art provides opportunities for older adults to engage in creative activities with like-minded individuals of all ages. Sharing their artwork with others enables artists’ voices to be heard in a positive and meaningful way which may also help to dispel ageist beliefs.

The artists below are a great example of how creative expression continues to flourish in later years.

At 109 years old, Alfie Dale, is Australia’s oldest person. According to an article in Daily Mail Australia he first learned to knit in 1932. Recently he has been using his knitting skills to help save penguins on Phillip Island from the effects of an oil spill by knitting jumpers for them.

Phil_Evanoff_Dancing_Girl_1982Bill Evenhoff
As reported in the article Mosaic Collection Created Bit by Bit, 96-year-old retired chemist Bill Evenhoff has created over 600 mosaics. He recently exhibited a sampling of his collection at the Patricia Scott Art Gallery in Bennett Hall at Ohio University. According to a review in Mosaic Art Now Evenhoff “has made mosaics for over 50 years for the sheer joy of it. The result is fresh, appealing, and utterly charming mosaic art.”

before-horiuchi-retired-he-wanted-to-try-something-newTatsuo Horiuchi
Creating his artwork on Excel spreadsheets, 74-year-old Tatsuao Horiuchi has wowed audiences on the Internet for several years according to an article in the Business Insider. He won the 2006 Excel Autoshape Contest along with exhibiting his work in Japan’s Gunma Museum of Art.

Image ‘Looking Up’ by Hal Lasko

Image ‘Looking Up’ by Hal Lasko

Hal Lasko
Pixel by pixel, over the last 13 years, 98-year-old Hal Lasko created works of art on a computer using Microsoft Paint. An article in Wired asked Lasko if he thinks about his paintings a lot, laughing Hal replied “that’s all I do.” He says he has “enjoyed every minute” of his work. Check out this short documentary called The Pixel Painter that showcases his passion for art.

Rafael Marchante/Reuters/Corbis

Rafael Marchante/Reuters/Corbis

An article entitled Senior Graffiti Artists Shatter Every Aging Stereotype, One Street at a Time highlights the work of a Portuguese urban art workshop for older adults. According to the article “Lisbon has a major street art scene and the program was set up to help the seniors not only understand and embrace street art, but also to help shatter stereotypes of both young and old.”

The artists highlighted here are a small sample of older adults who prove that there is no age limit when it comes to creativity.

Arts and Aging: Inspiring Resources from the 2015 Creative Age Conference

2015 banner 4The director of the Centre for Elder Research recently returned from the National Center for Creative Aging 2015 National Leadership Exchange and Conference in Washington DC (along with an Elders Share the Arts workshop).

Here is a sampling of some of the inspirational programs, reports, and companies mentioned at the conference that are part of a growing community of arts-based initiatives providing access to the arts for older adults.

Kairos Alive
Based in Minnesota, the Kairos Alive Dance Company promotes intergenerational, interactive participatory dance opportunities for older adults through its programs and performances in schools, long-term care homes, museums, parks, and community centres.

Elders Share the Arts (ESTA)
In New York City, ESTA “offers older adults rigorous arts programming that ignites creative expression, cultivates their role as bearers of history and culture, and generates new pathways to connect them to their communities” using theater arts, visual arts, storytelling, and writing.

Frame Works Institute
Gauging Aging: Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understandings of Aging in America. “This report lays the groundwork for a larger effort to develop a new, evidence-based narrative around the process of aging in our country and the needs and contributions of older adults. By comparing experts’ views to those of average Americans, the report details a set of communications challenges to efforts to elevate public support for policies and programs that promote the well-being of older adults. Key among these is the public’s view of aging as a decidedly negative and deterministic process, as well as its overall fatalism about our collective ability to find solutions to the challenges of an aging population. The report concludes with initial strategic recommendations for addressing these communications challenges.”

“EngAGE catalyzed the development of and provides programs for The Burbank Senior Artists Colony, a first-of-its-kind 141-unit senior apartment community that offers art and creativity as the core physical and intellectual unifying amenity.”

“The community features a theater group, independent film company, fine arts collective, music program, intergenerational arts program with the Burbank Unified School District, and the following amenities for artists in their second 50 years of creativity: 60-seat Theatre, Arts Studios, Music Performance Spaces, Computer Media Arts Center, Digital Filmmaking Lab, Outdoor Performance Areas, Art Gallery, and Sculpture Garden.”

National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA)
The NCCA Creative Caregiving Initiative produced a free, web-based and community-shared NCCA Creative Caregiving Guide for care partners of older adults with cognitive challenges such as Alzheimer’s disease that will be available to the general public July 2015. The guide provides step-by-step video lessons of creative caregiving practices.

Lifetime Arts
Lifetime Arts mission is to “encourage creative aging by promoting the inclusion of professional arts programs in organizations that serve older adults; to prepare artists to develop the creative capacity of older adult learners; and to foster lifelong learning in and through the arts by increasing opportunities for participation in community based programming.”

Their Creative Aging Toolkit “for Public Libraries is a free, online resource for librarians. It offers access to information about aging and libraries, creative aging research, and best practices in the field. The toolkit contains insights, tips, tools and templates to be used when planning, implementing and sustaining successful programs.”

Aroha Philanthropies
“Aroha Philanthropies works to improve the quality of life of people 55+ by advancing the development of professional teaching artists working with those in their encore years, and encouraging the funding, development, and proliferation of arts programs designed to enhance longer lives.”

Grantmakers in Aging (GIA)
GIA provides “its members with a personal connection to key people, high-quality resources, and state-of-the art ideas about aging and all issues related to aging. Dedicated to promoting and strengthening grantmaking for an aging society, GIA is the only international professional organization of grantmakers active in the field.”

Arts and Aging News

50_plus_festival2014_banner-subpagesCreative Aging in the News

In our last Arts and Aging blog we talked about famous artists who created new and exciting masterpieces in later life. Of course, it’s not just the masters who continue to thrive artistically as they age.

Meet Frieda Lefeber, who turned 100 last March. She celebrated becoming a centenarian with her first solo exhibition. According to an article on Lefeber began attending art classes at age 76 and earned a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at the age of 83. The article explains that she originally intended to get a bachelor’s degree “but she admitted, her tendency to fall asleep while sitting in the front row during art history lectures was a barrier. So instead, she graduated with a certificate”.

While working as a registered nurse, Lefeber cared for the famous American folk artist Grandma Moses who started her own painting career at 78. Coincidentally, it wasn’t until her late seventies when Lefeber became interested in painting.

Numerous studies have shown how participation in the creative arts and lifelong learning positively impact an older adults mental and physical well-being. So it comes as no surprise that Lefeber continues to be active by updating her published biography and learning to cook for her daughter and son-in-law.

New Music

Music is another artform in which people tend to thrive artistically as they age. Take Leonard Cohen for example, at age 80 he continues to produce his enticing blend of poetry and music with his latest live album ‘Can’t Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour’.

Upcoming Conferences and Events

National Centre for Creative Aging
The Creative Age: National Leadership Exchange and Conference
May 18-21, 2015
Washington, DC
“Join colleagues, peers, and key leaders in creative aging from across the nation and around the world for a dynamic constellation of events at this seminal gathering to explore the practice, the research, and the business of creative aging in America. Aligned with the 2015 White House Summit on Creativity and Aging the week will advance practice, foster national advocacy, and impact policy across the spectrum of creative aging.”

50+ Festival: Aging is Changing
June 1-4, 2015
Toronto, Ontario
“This year’s 50+ Festival at the Ryerson University Campus offers inspiring sessions that promote conversations about creative aging, reinvention, the business of aging and so much more. Join us as we celebrate new perspectives and approaches that will challenge your notions of living longer.”

ArtSage Midwest Arts & Aging Conference and Showcase
June 19, 2015
Chaska, Minnesota
“Join us for an arts-infused day of keynotes and workshops from national and regional leaders in the field of arts and aging! Learn how to build arts programming for older adults based on best practices in the field. Plus—an exhibitor fair and artist showcase with outstanding ArtSage-trained professional teaching artists, and the first-ever ArtSage Awards!”