CAC incorporates expressive arts in nursing facilities

The Center for Aging and Community has recently received a contract from the Indiana State Department of Health. The CAC has been a part of the university for nearly 15 years, according to Senior Project Director Ellen Burton. It was created partially in order to get more connected with the areas surrounding campus and to specifically aid the aging community.

“We are not a typical academic research center,” Burton said. “We don’t focus solely on faculty who have research questions and a research agenda and are pursuing external grants to support that. We, of course, are happy to work with faculty who are doing that around older adults and community, but what we primarily do is we work with partners in the community.”

The CAC staff work to answer questions people have about supporting aging adults.

“We bring the expertise of the university and all of the wonderful faculty that we have here and the strength of project management from the center and help them address those questions and tackle those problems,” Burton said.

One organization CAC works with frequently is the ISDH.

“There is a division of [the] ISDH, the state health department, that is in charge of insuring quality of care in nursing homes….” Burton said. “We have several contracts with them to do several different kinds of projects. One is creating a series of trainings around common challenges that nursing facilities face, such as wound care, infection prevention, how to care for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Then this one [contract], which is how to integrate the expressive arts into the day-to-day of the nursing home.”

After the competitive bidding process was complete, the ISHD chose to give this contract to the University of  Indianapolis. Through six four-day workshops across the state, CAC will instruct nursing facility workers in the areas of drama, writing and memoir, music, visual art and dancing and movement. The content areas will be led by experts in the field. The list includes Associate Adjunct Faculty of Art & Design Sarah Tirey and Director of Educational Outreach and Professor of Music Rebecca Sorley.

“It [planning] started this past April. And what we have been working on are three components of this project,” Burton said. “We are developing a four-day training [program] for individuals who are staff in nursing facilities, and that can be really anybody who works in a nursing facility, to come for four days and really learn about the expressive arts and what they are and why you would even bother to include it, and then how to include it.”

Burton said that although there has not been a large amount of research done in the area, the research that has been done is fairly groundbreaking. She said that the addition of expressive arts in nursing facilities can decrease rates of depression and falls among residents.

Residents’ falls bring them numerous health issues and can be pricey,  on average costing facilities around $35,000. In addition to warding off these negative effects, Burton said that expressive arts help decrease challenging behaviors such as yelling nonsense and wandering the halls at night, which is commonly found in people with dementia or Alzheimer’s. These types of activities help improve memory and give residents social opportunities.

Sorley is in charge of creating the music program for the workshops.

“I felt a little uncomfortable because I am not a music therapist, but we are talking about what people other than music therapists would do,” Sorley said. “I tried to gear my training to what I thought a person without musical training could do.”

Sorley said that she will be instructing the participants on two activities that she has designed to be adaptable to all ability levels. One of these activities is singing pre-existing songs and replacing their words.  The other activity involves playing with rhythm instruments.

“If they can’t really grasp anything there are wrist shakers, so they can use those,” Sorley said. “We are also going to use scarves, which are not rhythm [instruments], but they [participants] can move them to the rhythm… Playing a kazoo is fun and pretty much anyone can do it … I have made adaptations according to what the abilities are of the people we are working with.”

According to Sorley, she recently helped her parents transition to assisted living, so she is becoming more familiar with their practices.

“I think this is really exciting because a lot of times at the nursing facilities … they have an atmosphere kind of like a hospital,” Sorley said. “I think that the more experience they [participants] have with the creative arts, it will really help their quality of life.”

Burton believes that expressive arts really do help boost the quality of life for residents and career fulfillment for workers.

“On top of that, it’s fun,” Burton said. “It’s just fun stuff to do! It’s not just fun for the residents, it is fun for the staff. Part of this course is thinking about, yes, integrate it because it is good for your residents and, yes, this is a place of business, but this is their [residents’] home. This is where they live. When we go home, we want to sing and dance and be silly.”

Part of the training is to help those who will be implementing the activities in the facilities to get over the idea that they are not creative.

“It doesn’t matter what the outcome is, because you are not trying to paint a painting that will be in the Louvre. You are trying to sit down and do something that you find pleasant,” Burton said.

According to Burton,  the workshops will be hands-on. She warned participants that they must be able to move around and get dirty. At the end of the third day of training, participants will have learned two formal activities as well as how to incorporate the expressive arts into everyday activities. After implementing for 10  days what they have learned, they will gather once again to report on how the activities went and to work through any needed adaptations. Burton said that the leaders are going to help the participants trouble shoot on the last day to help keep them from getting discouraged. She also said that she wants to make sure there is a line drawn between their activities and any type of art therapy.

“We are very respectful of the scope of practice,” Burton said. “We are going to be very clear that we are not teaching anyone how to do expressive art therapy. We are teaching them how to see the benefit in engaging in the expressive arts at all, and how it can have a therapeutic benefit…. Obviously a master’s degree and a four-day program [are] not the same.”

The first program will be held in Indianapolis on Nov. 14.  Later programs will be held in Fort Wayne,  Merrillville, Columbus,  Evansville and Indianapolis again in March.

In addition to these workshops,  CAC will host two “train the trainer” workshops next year, to help participants in the first round learn how to pass on what they have learned to their co-workers. Burton said that any students interested in CAC and its programs should contact her.

“There are always opportunities to connect students with this,” she said. “We don’t always have money to pay them, so it would be volunteer. If students want to get involved, we are happy to find a way that works for everybody.”