Among the many activities the seniors of the At This Age group enjoy is to present their art projects and creative writing to the public based on real personal stories and fictional stories using plenty of creative imagination.
Facilitated by Dr. Dalia Gottlieb-Tanaka, the director of the Society for the Arts in Dementia Care, the At this Age Group meets weekly at Vernon &District Immigrant Services in downtown Vernon. In the past, the group has produced two theatre plays and one radio play.
The group’s latest project is a play where seniors have worked with students in Shon Thomas’ drama class at Kalamalka secondary school. The idea of collaborating with younger people came after an activity where group members wrote letters to their younger selves.
“As the project developed, it became apparent that involving younger people would add another layer of interest,” she said, adding that an article in The Morning Star about Thomas caught her attention. “This led to a series of meetings that affected both groups profoundly.
“As seniors ranging from 56 to 80 years old, we recognized the vast age differences, stereotypes and preconceptions applied to both old people and teenagers. We discussed our own expectations, ways to approach collaborative work and what was important to us in this process: our understanding of what getting older meant, as well as memory loss and cognitive challenges that may not necessarily be linked to aging.”
Gottlieb-Tanaka said meeting the students at Kalamalka secondary gave group members a wide open window into the world of teenagers, with the most important lesson learned that both groups had so much in common.
“Life is a series of ups and downs, situations that can elevate our senses or depress them,” she said. “When our letters to a younger or older self were distributed to the two groups, we discovered mutual topics. It felt really good to be able to let the students know that difficulties can be overcome and that we were living testimony that it could be done.
“It was clear to us that the intensity of pain and struggle the teenagers were going through was no less than our own, but we had the benefit of experience and skills we developed over time.”
Gottlieb-Tanaka talked about aging and how memory loss was reflected in cases of people living with dementia. The message was that not all situations in dementia are dire and gloomy and that with a little help, some of the anxiety of interacting with a person with dementia could bring moments of fun and happiness in spite of the difficulties.
“The students and their amazing teacher were so open and eager to learn; they made sure they understood our point of view on aging and that their understanding of dementia would be reflected accurately in the play,” she said. “We look forward to the rest of our work together on the play.”
Performances are planned for May and June with one more performance in September to coincide with the workshop/retreat for family caregivers sponsored by the Society for the Arts in Dementia Care.