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Aging with Dignity

Building relationships with seniors

Jun. 18, 2014
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Anne Basting, a UW-Milwaukee professor of play analysis, is using her talents to help benefit seniors. “Transforming Care for Elders through Creative Engagement”—a collaboration between the Peck School of the Arts, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, TimeSlips and Sojourn Theatre—will be held June 23-25 at the UWM School of Continuing Education. The effort aims to help teach students, artists and caretakers the important link between person-centered care and creative engagement.


One of the goals of this collaboration is to help seniors feel less lonely by engaging with younger people. Why is that important?

The isolation of living alone at home or in a facility can be profound. The majority of seniors are at home, and they try to stay at home for as long as they possibly can. But you can begin to feel really isolated—especially if your family has moved away. We want people to have independence, but also reduce the sense of isolation. We try to create currents between people.


Why are you so passionate about reaching out to seniors?

I am strongly opinionated on this because the tendency of our care system is often to give people pills when what they need is to be engaged. I have seen this need for connectivity. I have been in so many care communities and have seen the pain.


As the baby-boomer generation ages and seniors live longer, do you expect these kinds of events to become more common?

They already are. I’ve been in this field almost 20 years and there’s been an explosion of different opportunities. Still, because there is a system of institutions of care, it takes a long time for change. You’re starting to see it.


What does proper long-term care look like for you?

A good long-term lifestyle is one that doesn’t look like a prison, but instead looks like a home environment. Many senior communities are designed to look like hospitals. But hospitals are designed for transitional care, and many people live in nursing homes for years. We need to make these places feel, look and operate like home. People want to participate in the life of their own environment. We also need more volunteers and that’s really what I’m trying to do with young people.


Why do you think younger people are reluctant to engage with the aged and ill?

I think as a society we have a discomfort with disability and grief. Many people who do volunteer choose not to develop relationships, but sort of come and present and leave. It is also easier for facilities to have volunteers just present a song or play and leave, because they can park a whole group of seniors in front them.


Why are theater and the arts so beneficial?

Essentially, creative improvisation invites a person from wherever they are in that moment to play and imagine with you. It leaves behind all the loss and shame, and invites you to connect and move forward.


Tickets to “Transforming Care for Elders through Creative Engagement” can be purchased at tinyurl.com/createchange-register.


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