A 94-year-old woman, a journalist, suddenly turns to poetry and publishes two books full of outstanding poetry. Another woman in her late 80s, a fine artist, is busy setting up an art studio in her apartment after taking down her solo artist exhibition of 60 paintings. She’s also working on her book, “The Long Awaited Retrospective of an Unknown Artist.” Meanwhile, a musician in his late 80s is busy composing, which he says with a laugh, “is far better than decomposing.”
These talented people are all senior citizens who happen to live in The Watermark at 3030 Park, a retirement community in Bridgeport that, like others in Fairfield County — including Waveny in New Canaan, Bridges by Epoch for Norwalk and Trumbull, Wilton Meadows Rehabilitation and Health Care Center in Wilton and The Greens at Cannondale in Wilton, Atria in Darien, and Maplewood Senior Living with locations in Darien, East Norwalk, Danbury, Newtown, Orange, Southport, and Bethel — offers seniors outlets for their creativity. Seniors are busy creating art in various genres, and people are starting to realize that creativity not only does not have an expiration date, but seems to get stronger with age.
There’s plenty of research that also attests to that fact. In the article “The Pyschosocial Significance of Creativity in the Elderly,” by Christine C. Kerr, published online in December, 2013, the author maintains that it is time to reexamine “the conventional views of aging.” She states that most research on aging is obsessed with decline and that a shift in perspective is warranted. “Growing old in America is viewed as a plight, not as a rite of passage for continued self-actualization and later-life strivings toward individuation.”
Considering that more than 20% of this country is over the age of 65, it is definitely time to rethink aging. As for creativity in the elderly, Martin S. Lindauer, who wrote in “The Plenum Series in Adult Development” an article titled “The Case Is Made: Late-Life Creativity and Old Age,” also states that creativity in the elderly has been overlooked.
Irene Backalenick, the 94-year-old woman who published two books of poetry, says she came into her own when she moved to The Watermark. Her move from critical writing to poetry was a burst of creativity. “It’s like my whole life was preparation for this time,” she explains.
Jane Trainor, a fine artist, said that she was excited to have discovered the level of professionalism in the arts at a retirement community. “I’m still trying to get my studio ready,” says the octogenarian. Considering that she has painted in so many genres including everything from hard edged geometric paintings, to Asian art, black ink, collage, and tea bag art, there’s no end to what she may come up with.
Retirement community members are encouraged to think — and create — outside the box. For example, the original artworks of several Waveny residents and Adult Day Program participants were prominently featured at the Carriage Barn Arts Center in New Canaan in a recent exhibition called, “Art for Alz: Memories & Reflections,” held in support of the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter. At Atria Darien, residents, using prompts and questions on cards, participate in storytelling events with guest storytellers from the community. At The Greens at Cannondale, residents can, in addition to taking art and music classes, attend concerts. And Bridges by Epoch offers an outdoor sensory garden, bird feeders, and raised planting beds to help keep residents creatively active.
Gerry Fried, a musical composer and resident of The Watermark, has made his living creating music for television and film. “That was my day job for 60 years,” he recounts. He wrote scores for “Star Trek” episodes, as well as for “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Man from Uncle” and many other shows. When I reached him he was working on a play with music that he was writing and for which he will compose the music, as well. “The only thing that has diminished is my energy level,” he claims. “I work hard to stay awake.”
Talented seniors are not to be considered “over the hill.” They are still climbing toward the apex.