In the summer of 2022, we set out to introduce in-person wellness events, building on the online engagement activities we had organized for senior citizens during the pandemic. When we started planning the kinds of events we wanted to offer, I reached out to various people, both inside and outside the organization, to get their thoughts. I presented a few options like block printing, finger painting, ring toss, and tic-tac-toe. I was somewhat taken aback when my ideas received mixed reviews, not because I expected them to be flawless, but because of why some folks didn't think arts, crafts, and games were a good fit.
I heard statements like, "Senior citizens won't want to spend their time on these activities; they'd prefer a seminar. Instead of organizing a painting event, let's bring in an expert for a lecture." There seems to be a common misconception that the older you get, the less you desire "fun." This is a notion I've seen across the industry, where wellness events for senior citizens usually revolve around seminars, yoga classes, or digital literacy sessions. While ElderAid has organised events exactly like these, and they have been successful, the underlying assumption is that any activity for a senior citizen must yield some kind of "return," be it improved health or increased knowledge. Engagement for the sake of engagement doesn't seem to cut it.
This didn’t sit right with me, and, despite the mixed reviews, I went ahead with planning my event that featured painting, block printing, and ring toss. We reached out to an apartment building that let us host this event for their senior residents. Our Wellness Mela had a Games stall, an Arts and Crafts stall, and a Tech Support stall. Can you guess which stall had no visitors all day? The Games and Arts and Crafts stalls were huge hits! The seniors flocked to them, tossing plastic rings to win prizes, gathering around tables with jars of acrylic paints and brushes, comparing their freshly painted jute bags and flowerpots. Meanwhile, the Tech Support stall, which we assumed would be a hit, sat empty. The elders weren't interested in being educated, or being told to “improve upon their skills”; they just wanted to have fun!
We cranked up some old-school music, and soon enough, people were singing together as they showed off their game prizes, trading chocolate bars for juice boxes. They insisted we take photos of them displaying their artwork, and when I suggested a silly picture, they didn't hesitate to make funny faces and laugh heartily at the result.
By the end of the afternoon, as the seniors headed home, two women approached me with radiant smiles. "We had such a great afternoon!" one of them exclaimed. "Thank you so much! Today, we felt like kids again!" added the other. They both gave me a warm hug before leaving.
I'll admit, I had tears in my eyes. They were so genuinely delighted to have a space to play, create, and enjoy without the need for an outcome or added value. Happiness for its own sake, enjoyment, and levity – these are all vital components of holistic wellness that are, sadly, often overlooked.
This oversight extends to homes and families, where conversations about seniors frequently revolve solely around their health, with little consideration for whether they're truly enjoying their day-to-day lives. It's not uncommon to see older adults gifted puzzle books with crossword and Sudoku puzzles, always accompanied by comments like, "This will help keep your memory sharp." These gestures are made with the best intentions and certainly contribute to holistic elder wellness, but we mustn't forget that seniors are so much more than their health and memory. Put yourself in your loved ones’ shoes for a moment and ask yourself – “how much fun am I having? How many times might I have smiled today?” Empathy is the cornerstone of care and the desire to make your senior’s every day not just healthy, but also fulfilled one will enhance their quality of life.
Engaging them purely for the sake of happiness doesn't have to be limited to games or art; it can be as simple as sharing stories, participating in a spirited round of Antakshari, going through old sarees while reminiscing, or watching a movie together. And for those who prefer a scientific perspective, it's worth noting that the "happy hormones" released during a fun-filled afternoon can offer potential benefits in managing pain, discomfort, insomnia, and stress! It's essential to recognize that joy is a fundamental part of a healthy life, and as caregivers and loved ones of senior citizens, our goal should be to infuse happiness into their daily lives.