There is a central paradox of time that has been explored in a million different songs and poems. It’s that hours can seem so long, but the years go by so quickly. On a practical level, it can be expressed as a question: How do we fill these hours while also being fulfilled? That is, how do we make this short and precious time worthwhile by filling it with expressions of love, joy, and self?
For older adults, this paradox can become even more acute. When you retire, you’re probably looking at fewer years, but you have more hours to fill. For too long, the answer to the question of how to spend those hours has been: nothing. As a society, we’ve failed to encourage older adults to explore new hobbies and passions. But that’s wrong—and unfair—and leads to a stifling of the many good years people have left.
Even when hampered by physical ailments, such as arthritis, there is still an enormous amount of arts, crafts, and hobbies that can be enjoyed by older adults. These activities aren’t “busy work” either; they’re an expression of creative impulse and new ideas and a worthy way to fill your time.
Arts and crafts for seniors with arthritis are about overcoming challenges. They’re about finding new modes of creation. They’re about making the hours count.
The Benefits of Arts and Crafts For Older Adults with Arthritis
Broadly considered, there are a few main benefits of engaging in arts and crafts for older adults with arthritis. For many arthritic adults, there is the tendency to reduce activity, which is understandable. But the Mayo Clinic says that working out and exercise are “crucial” for people with arthritis.
Now, obviously, arts and crafts aren’t exactly a full-body workout. But they move joints in the hands and fingers, and often elbows. Depending on the type, there can be a lot of movement. Painting, for example, involves a lot of arm motion and a concentration of body and mind. But no matter what the activity, arts and crafts are a good way to keep blood flowing and the body moving, even on days when you don’t feel up to exercising.
There is also the mental aspect. Arthritis can be an inhibitor to social interaction. We’ve seen many people start to shy away from the world when they feel they are physically diminished. By starting with something doable, especially something that stimulates the mind like arts and crafts, an older adult feels more comfortable exploring and finding new ways to meet people, and to do activities.
Obviously, hobbies aren’t a cure for arthritis. Continue to follow your doctor’s advice. But older adults should be encouraged to find a real craft that works for them, that keeps them engaged, and that moves them (physically and otherwise).
Arts and Crafts Ideas for Arthritic Adults
There are two sides to gardening. There is the peaceful, meditative side that comes from the meticulous nature of watering, tending, and planting. Then, there is the exciting side, the fulfilling side of watching something grow into life, blooming into the world based on your work. This is a great hobby for people with arthritis because it can involve as much physical activity as you want. There is work done in the hands and fingers, and other joints depending on lift, but you can plant anything from a blue moon wisteria in your flowerbed to an apple tree in the ground. It’s good for the body and mind.
There are a few ways to make this a more accessible hobby, as well. Spades, hoes, and other implements with large grip handles make it easier for arthritic patients to grab. Elevated beds mean less kneeling and standing up. Make sure you balance the need for exercise with the need not to push it. If this is in balance, gardening—making beauty come from empty dirt—can be one of the most rewarding hobbies possible.
We know how eating right can make life better. We’ve explored what cooking means for older adults. It’s a connection to the past and a way to celebrate that which gives us life. And it’s just fun. Meals are a celebration. We live in a time in which people are eating healthier than ever. We aren’t bound by a few meals. That’s why taking up cooking, or expanding a repertoire and trying new meals to prepare, is one of the best things an older adult can do.
This has many benefits. In a kitchen, there is a lot of movement and motion but also opportunities to rest as items bake or water boils. It’s good exercise, without being too much. You’re able to create something to share, as well; a social experience that can expand palettes. It’s a new exploration, both the activity and the result.
For caregivers or family members, it can be important to encourage this. And that might mean helping out, especially when it comes to meticulous chopping or fine slicing. The older adult in your life might do the broad strokes, while you act as sous chef. Find out what they need and help. That makes a collective hobby an expression of togetherness.
Memories aren’t just about the past; they give us stories for the present and prepare us for the future. They’re how we construct ourselves and make sense of the journey that got us here. Scrapbooking, which can be a way to organize those stories, is an amazing hobby. It allows older adults to reconnect with their narrative, and maybe even draw new meaning from it.
In this, as in cooking, there may be a need for assistance. There is certainly work to do in research, but even cutting and pasting (in the traditional, non-computer sense) might be needed. A scrapbook can be digitized, but there is something tangible and lasting about creating a physical one, a memory you can literally open and hold in your hand.
Scrapbooking isn’t as active, but it engages the mind in a beautiful way.
Enough crafts! Art therapy is one of the essential remedies for a number of ailments because it forces the mind to imagine new ideas and creates mental combinations and pathways that might not have existed anymore. It opens up the mind while still being an expression of the body. After all, what the mind imagines, the fingers have to create.
You don’t have to be an artist to create art. You just have to have something to express. It can be fun to take up new forms, from painting to sculpture. These are activities that can transcend limitations (we’ve seen a blind 93-year-old take up painting). And sculpture doesn’t have to involve getting a chunk of marble and removing everything that isn’t the horse. For older adults, softer materials like play dough can be great.
Play dough is a perfect example. We feel like we should shun that, like it’s just for kids. But why? It’s a way that any of us, even those who aren’t “artists,” can create, build something, and take joy in what we do. It’s a way for arthritic older adults to fully participate in turning a lump of ideas into something tangible.
That’s what arts and crafts are. That’s why hobbies are important. They’re good for physical health and for mental expression. We should never stop that spirit of exploration. We shouldn’t have to fill the hours. We should let the hours fill us.
At Institute on Aging, we believe that aging is a time for creativity, when every aspect of life should be explored, not feared. It isn’t another stage of life but a continuation. How will your journey go? Contact us today to learn more about our programs and events for older adults, their family members, and caregivers.