Cocktails in care homes… and other empowering help the elderly schemes
Hens are cuddly and brilliant and don’t take up too much space. They are a little bit ridiculous, a joy to be with, and their eggs are delicious. Hen Power was started with about £200 by Equal Arts, the money being used to buy six hens and a second-hand hen house for the bungalows at Wood Green sheltered accommodation. There were initial concerns (would hens in elderly care homes be allowed? Would it be too much extra work for staff on minimum wage?). It turned out that everyone loved hens. The care workers even helped to buy a new run.
The scheme is now spreading to other areas. The Campaign To End Loneliness estimates that isolation increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 50 per cent. A 2013 study by the University of Northumbria found that elderly men participating in Hen Power all reported improved wellbeing, and reduced depression and loneliness. In one dementia care home it found that, since the hens had arrived, violent incidents by residents were down by 50 per cent, and the use of antipsychotic drugs was so reduced that they were no longer issued routinely.
Cocktails in Care Homes
Magic Me is an arts charity that seeks to bridge the gap between young and older people. In 2010, Magic Me invented the concept of Cocktails in Care Homes, a way to reduce boredom in the evenings. There’s something particularly empowering about this. Younger people are currently enjoying a vintage revival, but to these older people, it’s a way of celebrating the fashions and pastimes of eras they’ve been an active part of, lives they’ve lived.
The scheme initially started in three care homes with 12 volunteers. In 2013, the scheme got the help of over 200 volunteers to host nearly 60 parties in eight places. Magic Me are looking at ways to grow the scheme sustainably, as demand is high and the cocktail parties are becoming a monthly highlight. The scheme is a success because it builds anticipation and a sense of occasion. Suddenly, “what shall I wear?” becomes a tremendously important question. The elderly get an opportunity to socialise with each other in vibrant surroundings, but also with younger volunteers. The scheme has helped to build confidence and increase communication.
The Craft Cafe
The Craft Cafe was set up by Impact Arts to empower older residents in Glasgow’s Castlemilk housing estate. Its aim was to offer members a safe environment to build skills and connect with each other. Anyone from the age of 60+ can drop in and try their hand at all kinds of crafts, from making cards to sculpture.
The Friends of the Elderly charity say that over a million older people in the UK live in isolation, and one in five see other people less than once a week. Staff at the Craft Cafe say their visitors have reported reduced depression, increased mobility, reduced alcholol/cigarette consumption, improved mental health and increased social networks.
Nat McFadyen, public artworks co-ordinator for Impact Arts, also tells The Guardian that the cafe has empowered some members to reveal real artistic talent: “This is a generation who were meant to go to school, get a job, have a family. There was no room to be creative or expressive. Now, they are in the position of being able to express themselves, to have that pleasure in creating.”
You are not alone: Helping to reduce elderly isolation
The schemes listed here are inspirational, and they’re growing. There are many more wonderful schemes like this out there. But they’re local rather than national. Not all areas have the same benefits.
If you’d like to help, charities like Magic Me are always looking for volunteers.
If you have performance skills, you can advertise your act for free in the EAC directory of entertainers for elderly people. You could earn money while bringing a mooky ray of light to care homes, and no doubt learning a lot and gaining new perspectives from interacting with the people living there.
If you have an elderly person in your family who lives alone, it could be a great time to give them a call. It will probably mean a lot to them.
Main photo: Chiara Ceolin, Magic Me