By Dominic Ferrara
The picture used to be locked in to an antiquated version of crafts for the elderly: they were relegated to cutting out construction paper Christmas tree chains and Valentines, making doilies, and fussing with clay or paints. Maybe crafts for the elderly were thought of as siblings to crafts for the mentally challenged, or maybe crafts for the elderly meant—since the elderly were completing the circle of life and returning to regressed stages—that only that which children were allowed to handle was acceptable for the patients in an elder care facility.
Guess what? Times have changed along with people, and crafts for the elderly are much more “advanced”…they are, too, as varied in medium and message and skill level as the individuals are. Yes, our elders are still offered the options of pipe cleaners and papier-mâché, but they are also invited to continue what they did when they were younger. Some elders still work as jewelers, making jewelry, for instance, while others still quilt, knit, and crochet. Many enjoy finely detailed needlepoint. Others sew. Elders make clocks, build birdhouses, craft workshop items such as dolls and toys.
And why can’t crafts for the elderly also include arts for the elderly? My mother paints in oils and watercolors; my friend who is retired restores antiques. Other elders I have worked with in memoir-writing workshops have continued to write and make their own books (the hand sewn kind) but have also published their own memoirs with small presses. In addition, some have made planters and plant terrariums, while others have done decoupage and wood-burning projects that have yielded family trees, poems, and images as gifts and honors for their loved ones.
Other possibilities as crafts for the elderly include (but are not limited to) hand-made greeting cards, pictures, and posters; arts and crafts kits; ceramics; weaving; cooking and non-cooking activities; gardening; gift ideas and baskets (from dream catchers to edible bouquets); miniature models and kits (airplanes, cars, trucks); etchings (in brass or on tiles); scrapbooking; science crafts; sand painting; paper dolls; botanical and other 3-d sculpting.
Granted, those with debilitating conditions or mental deterioration will not be able to nor have interest in gold-flaking the ceiling. But many of our so-called elders are still as active and engaged as they ever were, so they need not be limited to our idea of crafts hour in the rec room. The idea is that the elderly should continue to do what they did, what they love to do, and whatever they can do to keep their minds and souls healthy and happy. If that means rejecting a popsicle stick for a paintbrush, all the better!
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