Creatively combating loneliness in the elderly

Watercolours aren't the first thing that come to mind when you think about helping the elderly. But thanks to one U.S based organisation, they soon could be.

As with most vulnerable groups in our community, the majority of us have little to do with the elderly. Those who care for, visit, or live with elderly loved ones know that life becomes increasingly difficult once we enter our twilight years.

Beside the myriad physical health problems we will face in old age, many among us will also come to feel the weight of the accompanying isolation, as our friends and significant others become less mobile.

Understandably, many of us want to assist the elderly, but are simply unsure how.

Paid (and unpaid) carers and support staff work tirelessly to ensure the final years of our lives are as comfortable and pain-free as possible. Not everyone has the qualifications, or time, to help in the traditional ways, though, and where would you even start?

"Small" is one answer. We should never underestimate the value of talking, playing games, or simply knowing that there are people thinking of you. It can have tremendous effects on our mental health, with studies showing that as we age, socialisation is increasingly important to combating loneliness, and reducing depressive symptoms.

With the knowledge that even small gestures can change the outlook of an elderly citizen, Illinois-based 'Color, Give, Smile' was launched in 2015, with the aim of sending cheerful artwork to seniors in the local community. Since then, children and adults alike have helped them to go from strength to strength, expanding their reach across the U.S and the world.

We've teamed up with 'Color, Give, Smile' to spread their great work around the globe. They've found us local partnerships Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the U.K; so many, in fact, we haven't been able to send artworks to some of them yet! In Sydney, we've been creating original artworks for the residents of Huntingdon Gardens Aged Care, while in Hong Kong, we're collaborating with The Elderly Services Association (TESA).

Recently, our Hong Kong volunteers and E.U Director, Kirsty, visited Granyet Aberdeen Elderly Care Centre to meet local residents, and presented them with our volunteer artworks. A big thank-you to Les Artistes Cafe, and Playground.Work for allowing us room to paint in your awesome spaces!

Combining a coffee date or parkside picnic with arts and crafts hardly feels like volunteering, but in a couple of hours, our volunteers are able to create colourful canvases and wondrous watercolours. These brighten up the lives of the elderly residents, proving that volunteering doesn't need to be costly or time consuming. It could even be, *gasp*, fun!

"If someone sent me that, it would put a smile on my face" a volunteer gestured to the canvas next to them, as we sat in a circle at Sydney's Hyde Park. Any passers-by would've seen a relaxed group of friends, with a mountain of art supplies between them, trading laughs and watercolours. "What else would I be doing on a Saturday afternoon, anyways?" another volunteer smiled.

When the artwork starts overflowing, the Cause Corps teams in each city hand deliver our volunteer masterpieces to our local homes, and as long as we can continue directly impacting the wellbeing of senior citizens, we'll certainly keep running 'Color, Give, Smile' events.

The next time you want to help the elderly, it could be as easy as a phone call, playing a game of cards, or creating something special for them. Just like that new fitness routine you want to try, or that essay you need to write, starting small is better than not starting at all.

Besides, there's something oddly therapeutic about tossing paint at a canvas.

To find a local 'Color, Give, Smile' opportunity, check out our Meetup. None in your area? Never fear, we're working on it!  For more information on 'Color, Give, Smile', see their website here
Phillip has an undying love for willow trees, and desperately wants to spend an evening with the ghost of Emily Brontë. He spends his time coaching teams and executives to find better ways to work, and supporting our Cause Corps teams around the globe. When he's not buried in a book, barbell, or yoga mat, you'll find him making friends with stranger's animals, or travelling the world to visit the haunts of his favourite authors.
Phillip Kapeleris