Feeling Lonely? Write a Poem or Grab a Paintbrush

Paint - 1HYANNIS – The next time you’re feeling isolated or left out, you might want to join a painting class or learn how to play an instrument – even if you think the days of learning new skills are over.

Widower John Carlson discovered poetry after his wife Sandy died eight years ago. The couple had been married for over 50 years, and he found himself floundering after she was gone. He wandered into the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth and met assistant director Lauren Wolk, who encouraged him to write about his grief.

“I wrote a poem and I went to the first open mic that they had,” Carlson said. “I read the poem that I wrote which was a tribute to my wife because it was therapy. I got a standing ovation. It just took me off my feet. I got to know quite a few of the people there and I’ve become quite involved with it.”

He recently published his fourth book of poetry and Wolk says his books regularly sell out at the Cultural Center. Carlson now goes to all kinds of writing events and has been invited to read his work often at the Yarmouth Senior Center

“I don’t know anyone more enthusiastic about being transformed by art because he was desperately lonely,” Wolk said.

Dabbling in the arts is essential for all ages, but research is now showing that it is especially important as we age. New research reveals that it promotes healthy aging and helps combat loneliness among older people.

A recent poll of people age 65 and older done by the Arts Council Englandhad the following findings:

  • 76 percent of older people said arts and culture is important in making them feel happy.
  • 57 percent said arts and culture is important in helping them to meet other people.
  • 60 percent said arts and culture encourage them to get out of their homes.

Falmouth primary care physician Anna Marie Espiritu, MD, of Bramblebush Primary Care estimates that between 95 to 98 percent of her patients are retired, and she regularly encourages them to keep active for their health and well-being.

“I think any form of activity, in general, is better for the older population,” she said. “Arts and culture can be a way of expressing one’s self. They stimulate creativity, which has a positive effect on mental function. Moreover, it is an excellent medium of socialization and can connect people from different walks of life. Once good connections form, your life gets bigger and loneliness fades.”

Many Opportunities for Culture and Art on Cape Cod

Seniors on Cape Cod are fortunate because there are many opportunities to participate in the arts, including three year-round cultural centers that are located in the three regions of the Cape: Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth, Cotuit Center for the Arts and Wellfleet Preservation Hall. All offer programs for all age groups, but the demographics of the Cape mean they have robust programs for seniors.

“We have some ongoing programs specifically for seniors that are so successful,” said Wolk, of the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. “They are really as much about being social as the arts and the two intertwined is a beautiful thing.”

One example is the Cape Cod chapter of the New Horizons Band. The band has been meeting at the Cultural Center every Monday afternoon since 2007. Membership starts around the age of 50 yr., but Wolk said many members are in the 70’s and up. Under the direction of Alex Pendleton, who is also the music director at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, about 40 musicians of all skill levels get together to socialize and share their love of concert band music.

“They give seasonal free performances to raise money and food for the food bank, so it’s got all these different facets to it that are wonderful,” Wolk said. “They say it’s the best part of their week. They just love to come here and play together.”

The Cultural Center of Cape Cod also offers classes in the arts and cooking in their new education wing. Some students are making art for the first time and others are returning to an art form they loved but put on hiatus to raise a family or have a career, Wolk said.

David Kuehn, executive director of the Cotuit Center for the Arts has noticed the same phenomenon.

“I’ve seen first-hand, in particular when there is a loss of a spouse, that the opportunities to become part of a real family at the Center saves people,” he said. “It really gives them a place to be and to engage and there are so many levels in which they can engage, whether they volunteer or just come to events or hang out in the gallery.”

The Cotuit Center offers classes in visual and performing arts for people of all ages. Popular choices are ukulele lessons, ball room dancing and drumming, according to Kuehn. The classes on international drumming have a curriculum, but they also offer a once a month free drum circle that is attended by 20 to 50 people.

Cotuit offers many free events, such as gallery tours and monthly staged theater readings and a monthly spoken word open mic.

“We’re always hoping to have a seat at the table with all of the social services organizations and the clinical community,” Kuehn said. “Our mantra is that the arts aren’t nice. They’re necessary.”

Arts Programs Help You Engage With Your Community

Like Cotuit, Wellfleet Preservation Hall offers free programing such as a once a month “Feed Your Love Open Mic” and art exhibitions. Their monthly contra dance has a $10 suggested donation.

They offer educational classes such as art history or the history of New England at their Open University of Wellfleet started by Rhoda Flaxman. They also offer classes in Zumba, yoga and dance.

“We have a very robust film program that we’ve seen really take off,” said Vanessa Downing, managing director at Wellfleet Preservation Hall. “We’ve found that event specific film shows like our food on film series is really popular in the community. About 75 percent of those attending are seniors and they love it.”

Downing said the six-year-old arts and cultural center is all about creating space for community. Even though they provide programs for younger people, the reality is that most of the people who donate, volunteer and attend programs are seniors.

“In general, we’ve met a lot of folks who are finally retiring or maybe they’ve had a second home here in Wellfleet over the years and now they want to make this their year-round home,” Downing said. “They are really seeking to engage with the community and to stay busy – not just to be entertained but to have a purpose in the community.”

By LAURIE HIGGINS, OneCape Health News

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