The Art of Combatting Ageism: How One Art Program Is Changing Perspectives

Health care students are usually exposed to older adults primarily in clinical settings such as hospitals or nursing homes. This can perpetuate negative stereotypes of “frail elderly” among individuals who will eventually be providing these adults with care. To combat this and create more positive attitudes towards aging, the program Promoting Art for Life Enrichment Through Transgenerational Engagement (PALETTE) pairs active older adults with health students to participate in creative arts activities.

During their education, students in the health care field are typically exposed to older adults primarily in clinical settings such as hospitals or nursing homes. This, coupled with pervasive societal ageism, can help perpetuate negative stereotypes of older adults and the associated prejudices and misconceptions that accompany them among individuals who will eventually be providing these adults with care. To combat this and create more positive attitudes towards aging, the program Promoting Art for Life Enrichment Through Transgenerational Engagement (PALETTE) pairs active older adults with health students to participate in creative arts activities.

PALETTE begins with orientation and training seminars where students and older adults are separately oriented to the program and educated on the importance of open dialogue and shared experience. In these seminars, participants are also educated on gerontological topics such as the prevalence of ageism and how to avoid perpetuating such prejudices. Following this, participants attend their first art class and are put into older adult-student pairs. These pairs work side by side on art projects that can include drawing, printmaking, or pottery. At the end of the semester-long program, there is a public exhibit of the art produced and a final reflection seminar for each group to discuss what they learned.

To date, over 170 older adults and students have participated in PALETTE, and evaluations have shown improved student attitudes toward older adults and decreasing student anxiety about aging. Interviews have shown the program to fostered an environment that could build strong relationships between students and older adults. For example, one student stated, “I felt like doing an activity together helped us connect more because we were able to let our guard down and show our true personality.” An older adult noted, “I did not feel they were patronizing, but truly interested in the ideas I put forward.”

This program shows that by mutually participating in a shared activity, strong intergenerational bonds can be built that can combat negative stereotypes. As for the ideal type of activity for such efforts, the researchers conclude, “Engagement with the arts was an ideal medium to foster these relationships because participants mutually approached an expressive activity that required them to step outside of their comfort zones.”

Source:

Rubin SE, Gendron TL, and Peron EP. Reciprocity and shared experiences through transgenerational creative arts. Public Policy & Aging Report. (2016). DOI: 10.1093/ppar/prw010

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