Aging is kind of a scary thing. And, no, I'm not talking about #adulting.
I'm talking about getting really old.
Medical conditions get more serious, you need increasing levels of care, and sometimes you can become socially isolated. But getting old isn't all bad, and I honestly love older people - after all, we tend to share a mutual love for Downton Abbey.
A couple of years ago, I started volunteering with an art therapy program (OMA) for the elderly, particularly men and women with dementia. In a study published in 2016, people with dementia showed the highest well-being scores when engaged in OMA compared to other activities.
Seeing how much the elders enjoyed making the art made me passionate about empowering and caring for these people who are often overlooked.
This led me to India...
where I did an independent study on aging and how that experience differs from ours in the US.
As part of my Global Health Studies minor, I was able to travel to India in January 2017 to complete an 'immersion experience' in a different society to observe a health problem. For obvious reasons, I picked aging, especially in the context of India's development and shift towards urbanization.
Traditionally, rural Indian homes were inter-generational: married couples living with not only their children, but also the husband's parents. The adult children were expected to care for their parents as they aged. But now, globalization and development are leading some adults to move to cities or other countries for work, and their aging parents don't have that same support system.
I wanted to see how communities in India are finding ways to care for their aging residents.
St. John's Medical College in Bangalore performs medical outreach in several villages and helps run a day program for the elderly in 3 of them. The centers are called GHKs, and they are designed for people in the villages who (usually) have a deceased spouse and very little immediate family in the village.
Residents can come to the center and socialize, pray, do exercises and yoga, and have a hot meal. This is especially important because nearly 60% of the rural elderly in southern India suffer from depression, and the day centers provide connection to the community and socialization that can help curb depression. It would be awesome to see community-based programs like this in more villages, but St. John's currently only has enough funding for the existing sites.
All over the world, the elderly are often overlooked. Really though, we're missing out on the people who could impact us most and they often sit lonely. Programs like art therapy and the GHKs in India can help improve the quality of life of the elderly, create purpose in their lives, and alleviate symptoms of dementia and depression.
Go volunteer and see where it takes you.
You could discover a passion, maybe it will take you around the globe and if you're lucky you might meet someone that could change your life! Give it a shot - and get on the wait list for our app to make finding volunteer opportunities ridiculously easy.
P.S Don't forget about the elderly in your community. You don't need to travel to India to hang with amazing people who would be down for yoga... art... or just someone to spend time with.
To the passionate volunteers,