Creativity, an Essential Element of Engaging with Aging?

Creativity: the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in production of artistic work.  Inventiveness, imagination, innovation, originality.

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When I was an “outsider” to the world of the aged, it never occurred to me that creativity might be a part of it, much less an essential one. I thought of creativity as being associated with the prime of life. Common knowledge seemed to be that aged people are “past their prime”. I also apparently limited creativity to the definition up above. Besides, who linked being old with imagination or originality?

It was only as my ARCs (age related changes) not only emerged but progressed, accumulated and began to invade the nooks and crannies of my life that the need for creativity became obvious. And it didn’t seem to involve imagination as much as paying attention to: details of what I could no longer take for granted, do easily or at all, and which changes in capacities were snarling things up.   I suppose if I had been content to just ride the river of aging and let things happen, this issue of creativity would not have arisen. But I wasn’t one who was happy with letting things slide. Gradually I began to see a pattern in the changes I was having to make. EWA was born. Eventually I even came up with a shorthand formula for it

Age Related Changes Impacting on Daily Living Activity Leading to Adaptation

or shorter still

ARC →Impact Area→ Adaptation

Now the inventiveness, innovation and even imagination began to come into play. As clumsiness and weaknesses grew, my response was, “OK Doris, now how can you do it differently? more safely? Some things I found I could do early in the day but not later. Sometimes I had to break the activity up or space them out. Sometimes I had to use objects in ways they weren’t intended.

ARC: Weak hands

Impact Area: inability to open dishwasher not only when it was “on the latch”, but even just partially closed. I needed to put dishes in it often during the day.

Adaptation:   I propped the door open with a rolled up terry towel. I also timed my dishwashing to fit with my primary care giver’s visits to open it

Impact Area: inability to open drawers for which my husband had created circular wooden pulls

Adaptation: I found some cord, made a sliding noose that I could slip over the knob and a foot long “tail” to wrap around my hand and pull it open.
Pretty primitive creativity, not the least artistic, but efficient!

I also began planning for what-if’s.

ARC:   Decreased night vision.

Impact Area: What if I needed to call someone during the night.

Adaptation: On the shelf next to the side of the bed where I sleep I placed reading glasses and a flashlight (the light switch was too far away) and my cell phone with a list of speed dial numbers for people who could help.

A colleague taught me about having a “nest” around the seat where I’d spend the most time. It would include all of the items it would be nice or necessary for activities I carried out there plus adequate lighting.

And so it has gone. When my adaptations work, tiny triumphs brighten my day. Failed attempts lead to revision or sometimes making a decision about whether the activity is essential to my well-being. I suspect there will be more of them as my ARC imps invade more nooks and crannies in my life.

There may well come a time when I am no longer able to create and adapt for myself. In preparation for that “what if”, I’m keeping my near and dear ones informed of my preferred approach and strategies. They may well need to be my keeper of the flame.

I’m coming to believe that this creativity in aging is an attitude as well as an approach. I also realize that it takes cognitive abilities as well as physical and emotional energy. Those are not always assured as one ages. Then one can only hope that one’s care givers also see this creative approach to aging as worth pursuing.

4 thoughts on “Creativity, an Essential Element of Engaging with Aging?

  1. You are brilliant. At 71 I see the day coming soon when I will no longer be able to do so many of things I do now. I’m working to complete projects now that I know I will soon be unable to do. I know I don’t care to pay some unknown contractor to install a new water heater. So I’m doing that now. I’m replacing two wooden gable vents that are rotting away with poly vents so that I can then paint my house. I want to replace our back deck sliding door. It’s old and won’t last another 20 years. So it’s got to go now while I can still do it. I appreciate you proactive approach to taking care of your business.

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  2. I think the nursing background helps with the creativity. So many times a task that needed to be done had to be adapt for any of a number of reasons. And then there is that nursing process where we assess, plan, carry out the plan, reevaluate, revise . . . I imagine teachers also have this creativity. With a background of professional creativity it is easier to practice it as we get older. That said, you certainly come up with some creative ways of dealing with things – I really love the drawer strings!

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  3. Love the blog and this post especially. My company, Spiro100, would love to share these posts with our community. If you’d be open to this, please do get in touch via email (alex@spiro100.com) so we can discuss. Otherwise, keep up the great work.

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  4. Being creative is such a big part of my life but then it always has been. My question is one about regaining some strength from parts of my body that I forgot to use…silly don’t you think. Is there a way to make those hands more responsive as we engage with our aging bodies? I wonder.

    Thank you for continuing to share with us. It is very important.

    Barbara
    age 77

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