Through extensive research in care units with elderly and mentally ill, Hanna-Liisa Liikanen (FIN) in her doctoral dissertation concluded that there are four elements in art and cultural activities that have an impact on a person’s health and well-being. In short:
- Art provides artistic sensations and meaningful aesthetic experiences.
- People in contact with art usually express a better self-rated health and feel they are leading more satisfactory life.
- Artistic activities (like dancing, playing music with others, painting in the group etc.) create communality and social networks, giving friendships and better control over one´s life.
- Art makes living and working surroundings more enjoyable and attractive. Art is seen as part of everyone´s life, needs and rights.
Hanna-Liisa Liikanen was in the audience when Happy End was performed at the care center Käpyrinne Ry in Helsinki, and said afterwards: “[the performance] was a fantastic example of artistic activity implemented by professional dancers (…) It gave the elderly persons an artistic experience but most of all impacted their wellbeing.”
“WE MUST REMEMBER TO SEE OLD PEOPLE WITHOUT THEIR “OLD MASK”
Executive director of Käpyrinne Ry, Päivi Tiittula, is delighted to have had the possibility to give the residents of the care center such an “unforgettable experience” and furthermore notes that it was really healthy for the elderly people to be reminded of the fact, that even though old ages has claimed some of their abilities, there are still lots of things, that they are capable of.
“We, who have to care for people, often only see where old people need help, and what kind of care they need. This project showed us that we have to see old people without their “old mask”, we have to see the entire person, and help the elderly people have the courage to believe in themselves and use their abilities.” says Päivi Tiittula. She also notes, that the staff were very proud to take part in the project.
Through art and dance the elderly people were revitalized, and reminded both themselves and their caregivers to focus on the possibilities, and not the obstacles of old age.
CAN ART HELP US ACHIEVE BETTER ATTITUDES TOWARDS AGING?
Through the Happy End Project Hanna-Liisa Liikanens conclusions of her doctoral dissertation has been seen in real life. According to Päivi Tiittula the elderly people cherish the memory of the process and the performance, they felt it reminded them of what they could still do (despite their age), they formed new bonds (even without speaking the same languages as the dancers they worked with), and finally, the project seems to have made the residents more content.
Päivi Tiittula encourages all of us to start drastically changing the way we as a society view eldercare and how we treat elderly people, and says: “I hope that projects like this will help change the fact that we tend to look negatively on aging, and bring along lots of alternative methods and ways of thinking regarding eldercare. I hope that we in the future will be able to make it even more possible for elderly people to achieve more for themselves.”
We hope so too.