The key outcome was to be able to identify the art activities which provide the greatest benefit and enhance the social well being of older adults. This was achieved through a partnership between Rural Arts, Leeds Beckett University and Age UK. A unique methodology tracked participants' emotional ups and downs during the activities and in follow-up reminisence discussion groups.
The key findings to maximise positive change were,
1. Get the level of challenge right: vital in order to increase feelings of self-worth and pleasure in the activity as well as not to create anxiety about being able to complete the activity. '¨2. Include creativity/choice: important as making creative decisions allows self-expression and increases levels of confidence. 3. Completing something of worth: a feeling of achievement is supported by a physical artefact that is felt to be of value to themselves or appreciated by their family and friends. This is also important in creating something to aid memory of the activity and reminiscence about the session.
4. Artist/facilitator personality: rapport developed over time alongside likeability and trust in the artist's ability encourages continued attendance and participation. Ideally with an empathetic understanding of participants' abilities and needs. 5. Being with others: the social element of the activity enables feelings of being supported by others and perhaps more importantly the opportunity to help others, further enhancing self- worth. For this to happen there is not necessarily a need to talk but to share a purpose and be able to look at and learn from what others are doing.
6. Art activity as a catalyst for conversation, social bonding: the social and the activity are inextricably linked in their beneficial effect. Doing something creative together builds a social bond around a common interest.
7. Art/craft as a continuation of lifestyle: although many described themselves as 'not arty' or as 'uncreative' for most there was a link with past interests and hobbies. For example several had always knitted, sewn, crocheted, made Christmas decorations etc. '¨8. Art/craft as a new challenge: for many the opportunity to learn/experience something new was also part of the enjoyment and challenge. This was sometimes an activity that they hadn't had time to pursue pre-retirement or did not know much about.
All participants benefitted from the sessions: in particular those who were most lonely or isolated demonstrated the most positive responses. Participants enjoyed both the activity as well as the discussion groups. The importance of building up relationships suggests that longer-term interventions would be more beneficial with some consistency of group and/or artist but with varied activities.
The emotion tracking provided useful insights into the affective nature of the activities:
a) Different activities created differing emotional responses but these are highly individual.
b) Most popular activities generated a steady level of concentration with some challenge
c) Least popular required little mental effort and resulted in fairly flat graphs with peaks related to conversation and tea and biscuits
d) Too challenging activities lead to frustration and anxiety
Talking, and in particular reminiscing, was found to be very beneficial in terms of wellbeing and self-worth: opportunity to narrate aspects of life stories to interested peers woven around interest in arts/craft/creativity. Remembering past times created very high emotional spikes as did remembering amusing or frustrating moments from the craft sessions. In the discussion group people were keen to share what they had done and the items they had made.
However, those in most need are often the hardest to attract due to trasportation issues, lack of information, and a hesitation about joining in due to social isolation.