It’s pretty well known that seniors and older adults who keep their minds active and engaged are healthier. And we’re not just talking through crossword puzzles and sudoku. Have you thought about how art and music play a role too? A local organization sure has – Creative Aging (CA), which was founded in 2003, has only one focus: enriching older adults’ lives through arts engagement. CA provides older adults accessible arts experiences where they live and at community locations, through musical and theatrical performances, plus hands-on arts workshops and classes.

“Participating in CA’s arts programs reduces older adults’ sense of isolation, stimulates their minds, and provides a critical connection to community. Programs also promote health and enhance seniors’ feelings of independence and confidence,” explained Creative Aging Executive Director Mia Henley. “Accessing the arts – or any community-based event – is difficult for many older adults, even more today because of new health safety concerns. Creative Aging’s accessible arts experiences eliminate the logistical and financial barriers that keep seniors out. Our programming is specifically designed to interest and involve seniors and to encourage skill-building, confidence, and an enhanced sense of self-worth.”

Creative Aging works with several organizations across the Bluff City including Memphis Public Libraries, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Dixon Gallery & Gardens, Theatre Memphis, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Methodist Hospital Foundation, over 70 senior communities and many more local institutions. It’s also forged tight partnerships with local Jewish organizations including the Memphis Jewish Home & Rehab, Memphis Jewish Community Center, Baron Hirsch Congregation, Plough Towers and Temple Israel.

“Creative Aging has been a wonderful partner [since 2004]. We regularly are able to offer top-quality entertainment, artistic workshops, theater and more to our residents,” said Plough Towers Executive Director Leigh A. Hendry. “We are also fortunate that in the past several years, we’ve received a B’nai Tzedek grant through the Jewish Foundation of Memphis that helps us pay for half of our annual fee.”

Though the pandemic has certainly made CA’s important work more challenging, it hasn’t stopped the organization – many of their offerings moved online. And, some performances took place outdoors, so seniors could listen and watch from balconies, parking lots, courtyards or on closed circuit TV.

Recently, CA gave iPads to Plough Towers’ residents to continue its art engagement. “Creative Aging purchased iPads for Plough’s residents with grant funds received from the State of Tennessee through its CARES Act funding. The grant’s parameters required that funding be used to negate negative effects of COVID-19 – one of which is isolation, especially among older adults,” noted Mia. “Creative Aging’s program is designed to allow seniors to connect to online music and arts engagement programs, as well as to family, healthcare providers and others.

Working in partnership with Plough Towers’ computer instructor, Leslie Kornberg, and Memphis Public Libraries Techie Senior trainer, Taylor Thomas, residents improved their iPad skills and stayed better connected to their community.”
“The iPad library has been a tremendous help for our residents,” added Leigh. “Social Isolation became the buzz word and was a real problem due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions that we all had to live with. The thought process was that [iPads] could be a means to battle social isolation. And it is!”

With some training, the residents have embraced technology, added Leigh, and really benefited from the iPads and Plough Tower’s computer lab with six new Apple computers.

“Although I’m here every weekday afternoon to answer questions, today’s residents are able to use their own devices – whether smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktop computers,” said Leslie, whose role as computer instructor has become ever-changing through the pandemic. “Almost everybody is comfortable using a smartphone, which makes the iPads very intuitive. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the minimal iPad training needed by the seniors.”

To think about living through the pandemic without the benefits of technology is pretty daunting, and residents are appreciative for the tech. “The use of the iPad has helped me relax during stressful periods. I enjoy playing games, listening to music, and checking email on the iPad,” noted resident Roger Messinger.

“I like coloring pictures and listening to music on the iPad, we are grateful to Plough Towers and Creative Aging for making these available,” added resident Kathy Messinger.

Over just the past five years, CA has engaged seniors over 25,000 times each year, bringing music and arts programs to more than 75 diverse Memphis-area residential and day-use communities in over 30 ZIP codes. Though the pandemic has changed things, CA’s creativity and compassion has never let seniors down.

“We value our relationship with Creative Aging,” said Leigh, “and look forward to the continuation of high-quality programming.”