Santa Cruz County, California is combating senior loneliness and isolation, through community organization and art. Following a similar exhibition on foster children MAH (Museum of Art and History), launched the Loneliness exhibition this year. MAH’s former director Nina Simon, who is internationally known, conceived the idea of community organization through museums ( Museum of Art and History) at MAH and is moving that brilliant concept globally.
Over the course of seven months, a group of Santa Cruz seniors, advocates, and artists , cascaded their ideas, art, hopes, and stories on senior loneliness and isolation in the Santa Cruz community together to create this inspiring exhibition. They created personal artwork about loneliness, brainstormed solutions to build connection and offered their words of wisdom for future generations.
Alongside incredible artworks, on loneliness by local seniors, this exhibit created 45 action cards to offer solutions to this growing problem. Examples are Drive a senior to the grocery store. Card ideas also included “Translate written materials into Spanish for a monolingual elder” or “Donate an iPod for entertainment “. If the visitor to the exhibit has a special skill, they are asked to volunteer to help a senior experience that -like get a manicure. Exhibit visitors take home the action card/s that inspires them the most and to help impact change in seniors experiencing social isolation in Santa Cruz County.
The exhibition will travel and be replicated in four other California counties, to give more lonely California seniors a chance to organize and create services for loneliness in other areas, through other museums that use art to create community.
Loneliness and isolation in older adults But what has been found is building social connections through the community as MAH has done is what combats this isolation in seniors, in our society. Loneliness puts seniors at risk for depression, cardiovascular failure, insomnia. It can, according to NY Times aging columnist Jane Brody raise levels of stress hormones and inflammation, which in turn can increase the risk of heart disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, faster and result in cognitive decline and even suicide attempts. It also is a factor in unnecessary placement in nursing homes
Increasing the quality of life is one major answer to loneliness. The primary way to bring more joy into a senior’s life is regaining a foothold in town or village, something that this type of community art exhibit and geriatric care managers both have made a major platform in their work. Nina Herndon a pioneer in quality of life in geriatric care management’s chapter in Handbook of Geriatric Care management where she outlines how care managers can deliver this service to conquer loneliness in seniors