Dr. Dovrat Harel01.10.20 10:03 13 Tishrei Tishpa
Illustration, the photographers have nothing to do with the article (Photo: Yonatan Zindel / Flash 90)
The corona plague has changed the reality of the lives of the elderly people in Israel as well as around the world. Due to the many risk factors for serious illness and even mortality, a strict policy is adopted of isolating the population living in nursing homes and the community, and strictly maintaining social distance from it.
These guidelines are of course meant to protect the elderly from the corona virus. But on the other hand, it is impossible not to recognize their dire consequences for their mental well-being, general functioning and health.
Recent studies indicate an increase in the levels of fear and anxiety among people in old age, as well as a feeling of loneliness, levels of depression, morbidity and even suicide. At the same time, the denial of freedom of movement and the freedom to choose how to manage the daily routine may rekindle past traumas, associated with situations of siege, captivity and imprisonment, such as memories of the Holocaust.
In nursing homes, there is another stressor, the care staff, who are under a great and anxious workload for their own and the residents’ health from contracting corona disease. All of these also affect the feelings of the tenants and deepen the harm to their mental well-being.
Art benefits the mind
Given the corona restrictions there is a need among the elderly population to find new anchors, through which you can express yourself and deal with the mental difficulties, alongside maintaining the guidelines. This is where art comes into the picture.
Studies have shown that artistic activity, in its various fields, has a beneficial effect on the mental and physical health of human beings throughout the life cycle. In old age it takes on special significance, as not only does it emphasize a person’s preserved abilities and healthy functions, it also encourages and cultivates new skills, and contributes to growth and development in old age.
Artistic activity gives older participants a sense of control over their lives and encourages them to engage in meaningful social engagement. People involved in artwork visit doctors less, take less medication, are less prone to falls and are generally in a better mood. They also report a lower sense of loneliness compared to their non-art peers.
Art can also be harnessed as a therapeutic tool, as does therapy through the arts.
Such treatment is based on processes of expression and creation in order to cultivate the mental strengths of the elderly and strengthen their coping skills on a personal and social level. The use of different arts helps people to express themselves in language that is not just verbal and experiential.
Addressing the creative process and artistic outcomes contributes to strengthening cognitive and emotional ability and improving coping with mental and physical symptoms, such as stressful situations, and traumatic experiences, illnesses and more.
Opportunity to express fear
Through group therapy it is possible to get along very well with people in old age and help them deal with the feeling of loneliness that characterizes many of them. When integrated into therapy, joint creative processes are given, illustrating and emphasizing important aspects, such as group cohesion, belonging, support, and intimacy. Participants enjoy sharing the creative experience, the opportunity to experience moments of shared enjoyment and diverse communication that does not end with just verbal language.
In this period, when the elderly are socially isolated due to the fear of contracting the corona virus, it is of great importance to support them through the arts as a therapeutic tool.
The opportunity to express fear, distress, loneliness and sadness, which are not always fully and accurately expressed through words, helps them to share their deepest and most hidden feelings. The artistic expression is done at an “aesthetic distance” that helps patients explore and process complex and sometimes difficult mental contents, which direct verbal reference may cause them to be emotionally overwhelmed.
The language of art, which is a symbolic language, allows for the taking of a psychological distance and hence also the processing of this content from a reserved and safe position.
Dr. Dovrat Harel, is a lecturer at the Ono Academic Campus – School of Society and the Arts and YHAT.
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