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Celebrating seniors

Jesse Robson (left) and Kayla Mallery (right). Photo by Katrina Pyne

When Jesse Robson thinks of seniors, she doesn’t just think of crossword puzzles, Sudoku or Jeopardy. She thinks of dancing, magic tricks, art and, most importantly, an opportunity to teach others.

This was the basis for her award-winning vision, the Centre for Arts Exchange, in Halifax. Her idea won her $5,000 from the Start Something with Alesse contest to get her project off the ground.

Robson, a Dalhousie neuroscience graduate, was already volunteering at the Geriatric Day Hospital at the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

“So I when I first started, I asked people what their hobbies were—what they would do when they went home.  And then they’d just look at me and say ‘nothing.’ And I think they really meant it,” says Robson.

“It wasn’t because they didn’t want to be doing things. It was because they didn’t have the transportation necessary to get places,” she says. “They didn’t have the financial means to sign up for certain activities, or they didn’t feel comfortable participating because of chronic health conditions.”

So Robson decided to ask seniors what kinds of activities they were interested in. She started teaching dance classes for seniors at the QEII once a week. Soon after, they started running magic trick classes by popular demand.

She figured if seniors were interested in magic tricks and everything from swing dancing to hula dancing, why not initiate a summer camp with a complete variety of art-oriented activities?

“We are trying all different kinds of activities, from action painting to juggling to break dancing and other similar traditional arts like sculpture, song-writing, and poetry. We’ll just have to see what works.”

Robson hopes the camp will be a way to re-introduce creativity, camaraderie and physical activity to seniors living in isolation, poverty or with an illness.

The camp will be fully funded by the Start Something With Alesse contest and will be free to any elderly adults wishing to participate. Caregivers or family members are welcome to participate as well.

Robson says there are few opportunities for seniors to engage with the community in a creative way. The YMCA offers elderly aerobics classes but Robson says those tend to cater more to seniors who are already active, as opposed to someone who has been sedentary for a long time or someone recovering from surgery.

The idea of the Heart and Soul Summer Arts Camp is to inspire these people while simultaneously offering programming with physical, cognitive and social benefits. It all started when two Dal professors and geriatricians, Ken Rockwood and Laurie Mallery, began to advocate that physical activity could prevent many physical and cognitive ailments associated with aging.

“It’s very important to us to include as much beneficial activity as possible and not just to get people moving a bit, but really to make sure they are getting particularly beneficial exercise that is going to help them build the muscle of their lower limbs to prevent falls,” Robson says.

She says the camp will also seek to provide meaningful cognitive stimulation through discussing works of art and putting together performances and art projects.

The camp will run on Mondays for the entire summer from April 16 until August 31 at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, which is accessible by Metro Transit.

For more information or to register visit Robson’s site.

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Katrina Pyne
Katrina Pyne
Katrina was Editor-in-chief of the Gazette for Volume 145 and News Editor for Volume 144.
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