Creativity Spurs Connections for Maine Seniors – even when it happens online

12/02/2020

Can modeling clay, construction paper, and a Zoom connection help ease America’s isolation epidemic? One pioneering group says yes.

Martin’s Point Health Care is working with the Foundation for Art & Healing to pilot an innovative version of their Creativity Circle™ group workshop program. It’s part of the larger UnLonely Project, funded in part by the AARP Foundation and launched in 2016 to combat isolation and loneliness, which impact more than one-third of U.S. adults. Harmful to both mental and physical health, loneliness can aggravate depression, anxiety and thought function, increase pain and fatigue, and even threaten heart health.

“This partnership is exciting and timely,” said Jeremy Nobel, M.D., founder and president of the Foundation for Art & Healing. “Martin’s Point has a reputation as a leader in the delivery of high-quality patient-centered care. Extending that commitment to programs like ours that address the epidemic of loneliness in older adults sends a strong signal of urgency and opportunity.”

The upside of meeting virtually

Not to be confused with a traditional art class, these eight-week workshops use creative expression to forge new connections among seniors, blending in mindfulness and group discussion along the way. Groups are led by professional counselors, with three pilots in Maine, plus six others in Chicago and New York City. Participation is free and all materials are provided.

Pilots are testing the effectiveness of an online Creativity Circle program — originally designed to be in-person — via Zoom. “Meeting virtually is so good for Maine,” notes Alexandra McCabe, LCPC and art therapist in private practice, who leads 12 seniors that stretch from Biddeford to Glenburn. “Much of the state is rural. We’re all spread out, and people really need connection — now more than ever.”

There’s another big plus: “It’s incredibly convenient. No one has to travel from home to join the group.” Alexandra adds.

To get off the ground smoothly, she worked with each participant before the first class,  troubleshooting tech and connections.


Creativity Circle participants hold up their artwork

The richest hour of the week

Alexandra’s group connects every Thursday, usually running over the allotted hour. There’s a lot to fit in: conversation, mindfulness, an art project, discussion and sharing. Each week has a theme, like finding purpose or managing stress.

The mindfulness component might be a guided meditation or breathing exercises. “This is one of my favorite parts,” says participant Mary Alyce from Glenburn. “It helps me stay centered – especially now that I can’t get to yoga class.”

Expressive art projects also vary. One week, the group made collages to show their impressions of a healthy brain. Another, they drew inspiration from a Kandinsky painting to create a works that reflect resiliency. “We get to use different parts of the brain that we don’t often tap into, and that’s enlightening,” says Mary Alyce. “I hadn’t thought outside the box in ages,” adds another participant.

Strength in community

At its core, Creativity Circle is about sharing and helping each other through aging. There’s a practical advantage, as the group trades resources and strategies, helping each other build skills and find ways to overcome everyday hurdles. Then there’s the peer support.

“By discussing the challenges of getting older, people recognize that some of the issues they’re dealing with are the same,” says Alexandra. It doesn’t matter if you have a master’s degree or worked in a service industry. “You realize you have a community to inspire, uplift, and encourage you.”

“Last week, the discussion gave us an opportunity to reflect on how resiliency applies now and to experiences we’ve had in the past when we had to be resilient. That sharing helps us all,” adds Mary Alyce.

"The group gives me something positive to think about,” says Rhonda, a participant from Auburn. “It is a bright spot in my life and has given me more contact with people.”

And that is exactly what Creativity Circle is all about.

Learn more

For more information on Creativity Circle group workshops and the UnLonely Project visit the Foundation for Art & Healing website. If you're interested in participating in our next Creativity Circle program please email [email protected]

If your organization is interested in offering a Creativity Circle workshop, send an email to l[email protected].