Published on July 11, 2016

Feeling lonely? Write a poem or grab a paintbrushFeeling lonely? Write a poem or grab a paintbrush

The next time you’re feeling isolated or left out, you might want to join a painting class or learn how to play an instrument – even if you think the days of learning new skills are over.

Widower John Carlson discovered poetry after his wife Sandy died eight years ago. The couple had been married for over 50 years, and he found himself floundering after she was gone. He wandered into the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth and met assistant director Lauren Wolk, who encouraged him to write about his grief.

“I wrote a poem and I went to the first open mic that they had,” Carlson said. “I read the poem that I wrote which was a tribute to my wife because it was therapy. I got a standing ovation. It just took me off my feet. I got to know quite a few of the people there and I’ve become quite involved with it.”

He recently published his fourth book of poetry and Wolk says his books regularly sell out at the Cultural Center. Carlson now goes to all kinds of writing events and has been invited to read his work often at the Yarmouth Senior Center

“I don’t know anyone more enthusiastic about being transformed by art because he was desperately lonely,” Wolk said.

Dabbling in the arts is essential for all ages, but research is now showing that it is especially important as we age. New research reveals that it promotes healthy aging and helps combat loneliness among older people.

A recent poll of people age 65 and older done by the Arts Council England had the following findings:

  • 76 percent of older people said arts and culture is important in making them feel happy.
  • 57 percent said arts and culture is important in helping them to meet other people.
  • 60 percent said arts and culture encourage them to get out of their homes.

Falmouth primary care physician Anna Marie Espiritu, MD, of  Bramblebush Primary Care estimates that between 95 to 98 percent of her patients are retired, and she regularly encourages them to keep active for their health and well-being.

“I think any form of activity, in general, is better for the older population,” she said. “Arts and culture can be a way of expressing one’s self. They stimulate creativity, which has a positive effect on mental function. Moreover, it is an excellent medium of socialization and can connect people from different walks of life. Once good connections form, your life gets bigger and loneliness fades.”

Many Opportunities for Culture and Art on Cape Cod

Seniors on Cape Cod are fortunate because there are many opportunities to participate in the arts, including three year-round cultural centers that are located in the three regions of the Cape: Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth, Cotuit Center for the Arts and Wellfleet Preservation Hall. All offer programs for all age groups, but the demographics of the Cape mean they have robust programs for seniors.

“We have some ongoing programs specifically for seniors that are so successful,” said Wolk, of the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. “They are really as much about being social as the arts and the two intertwined is a beautiful thing.”