The combination of an aging population and the potential negative health effects caused by social isolation presented a problem that our team — consisting of members from the Regional Health Authority, the Western Regional School of Nursing, health professionals and a local performing arts organization — aimed to address.
Older adults can experience negative health effects due to social isolation.
SmART Aging was a community-based virtual arts program delivered by local professional artists in western Newfoundland. The program connected socially or geographically isolated older adults with artists and other participants through online sessions that featured a variety of expressive arts disciplines. Local artists developed engaging programming that was specifically aimed at the older adult population.
Eight artist-led sessions were available using virtual technology, and older adults could participate from the comfort of their own home and at no cost. The art sessions ranged in focus from letter writing to painting and drawing, as well as storytelling and theatre skills. Participants could choose to attend only one session, or complete all the sessions.
To measure program effectiveness, the project team offered an anonymous survey to participants that asked them to provide feedback on their experience and satisfaction with the program. Virtual focus groups were also held at the end of the sessions with the project team and the artists to evaluate the program and to identify strengths, opportunities for improvement and the overall sustainability of offering a similar program in the future. The distance that clients would have needed to travel for this program if virtual access was not available was also tracked.
Alleviating social isolation
While the pandemic altered both program delivery and recruitment, and decreased the expected participation, overall the program was a success. Even the small number of attendees represented a significant impact on saved travel time and cost.
Collectively, the participants would have had to travel 3,836 kilometres (return) if they had attended in-person art sessions. It is the hope that art-based projects like this will continue to be explored as an option for improving older adult social isolation and positively benefiting health.