Intention is everything.Working with older adults is different from almost any group because the teacher-student relationship dissolves. Each is learning from the other. You, the professional may know more about the materials you are using or the design of the process, but at the same time there is a wealth of different experience available for you to learn from, if you encourage and honor its expression.
The work is relational.
No-one likes to be “othered”; no one likes to be a “charity case”. Respecting the strengths, potential and experience of the person or people with whom you are working is of paramount importance. Beware of the trap of wanting to “help” descending into an attitude of “You poor old thing!”
Going to the encounters (programs, classes, meetings etc) with a healthy dose of interest and curiosity about how you can bring your creative skills and experience to serve theirs, will also provide the basis for a working relationship enhanced by the excitement that the learning will be reciprocal – a learning community even if there are only 2 people present at the time.
When you notice yourself becoming mechanical (in movements, strategies, responses etc) reflect on why and where you go unconscious and fall into habitual behavior.
Energy and Enthusiasm are infectious and often, they are what carry the participants and the process along as they encounter their doubts and internal critics.
Other useful tools are
- knowledge of how adults learn,
- the cultures that inform the participants,
- the language that shapes their worldview,
- their social position in the past
- general information from experts if working with people with special needs
- a knowledge of and ease with the particular areas through which you will approach them
- and a sense of fun.
The best way I know to involve seniors in the planning is simply to ask them what they want, encourage their ideas, honor the connections they have made and stay in conversation with them throughout the process.
- To keep on rooting out one’s own assumptions and biases.
- Reflecting on the process each day is useful.
- Diminished physical ability need not stop someone from being involved.
- That sometimes just knowing they have a choice to do something creative is good enough for some people to luxuriate in.
- Novelty of approach – whether something entirely new or doing accustomed things in different ways – is important for continued brain health.
- Accepting that the process may not go the way we expect, but trusting the process, is vital.
- Sometime just being the witness of someone else’s process is the work.