NIA Arts Program Aims at Debunking Myths of Aging
It's a mingling of the young and old that's at the heart of the Vital Visionaries project, an arts-based program developed by the National Institute on Aging.
Schmalfeldt: It's a mingling of the young and old that's at the heart of the Vital Visionaries project, an arts-based program developed by the National Institute on Aging. Managed by the non-profit Society for the Arts in Healthcare, the goal of the program is to improve the attitude of future doctors towards older people and to awaken in older people an awareness of their creative possibilities.
Salerno:It's very clear that our whole culture has bought into a negative image of aging. And that includes older people, too! They don't understand their potential, and that late life can be an opportunity for creative engagement.
Schmalfeldt: That was Dr. Judith A. Salerno, deputy director of the NIA. She said the program had a modest but impressive start.
Salerno: It was a bit of an experiment. We matched 15 medical students with 15 people in the Baltimore community, older persons who were living on their own, independently, and we gave them an art exposure, if you will. We set up an opportunity for them to work together in pairs to actually create art and listen to older artists and explore a museum. And we measured their attitudes prior to engaging in this Vital Visionaries program and then after, and we found that the medical students' attitudes toward aging improved dramatically and they were much more likely to have a positive view of seeing older people in their practice.
Schmalfeldt: The program has now been expanded to several other medical schools around the country. This program coincides with a decline in the number of physicians who specialize in the medical problems associated with aging. There are about 9-thousand geriatricians in the US today, far short of the estimated 36-thousand that will be needed by 2030 to treat the growing number of older people, according to a study contracted by the Association of Directors of Geriatric Academic Programs. But even setting aside for a moment the health care benefits of the Vital Visionaries program, there's a wonderful human side to the results as well.
Salerno: If you look at the faces of the participants in this program you can see that there has been a difference, there has been a change. The most rewarding aspect of this program has been that the pairing of the medical students and the older person has continued long, long after the program has been finished. We've actually, with this program, created friendships.
Schmalfeldt: You can read more about the program online at www.nia.nih.gov. From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Bill Schmalfeldt
Sound Bite: Dr. Judith A. Salerno