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Arts and Creativity in Care – Perspectives from Finland shared at the Global Ageing Conference as National Day of Arts in Care Homes approaches 

By Laurie Monaghan – Policy, Public Affairs and Research Intern

Within my first whirlwind two weeks at NCF, I was lucky enough to attend the Global Ageing Conference in Glasgow, an international event co-hosted by NCF, Scottish Care and the Global Ageing Network. Since it’s Arts in Care Week, I thought it would be relevant for me to share some insights from one particular workshop I attended, in which Rasia Karttunen (founder and director and Armas) explored how prioritising arts and culture and formalising the process of understanding people’s cultural needs has improved wellbeing, functional capacity and cultural connections amongst older people in Helsinki, Finland.  

One thing people often known about Finland is that it is consistently cited as the world’s happiest nation. It does, however, have one of the most rapidly ageing populations, meaning continued happiness and creativity in later life is of tremendous importance, something that Sir Geoff Mulgan talked about in his keynote address at the Global Ageing Conference. The case for creative ageing in Finland has always been recognised, but provision of interdisciplinary working between the health and social care and cultural sectors has kicked off since the introduction of the Arts and Culture for Wellbeing Action Plan in 2010. 

Taken from Love in a cold climate: Creative ageing in Finland, a report by David Cutler, Raisa Karttunen and Jenni Räsänen from The Baring Foundation  

In the city of Helsinki, the multi-disciplinary teams that staff its 15 senior centres now include Cultural Instructors. The role of a Cultural Instructor is broad, but it is primarily to be present and engage with older people to ensure they are able to enjoy their cultural rights. Their artistic education brings a unique perspective to social care centres, and they provide artistic services such as arranging trips to cultural centres like theatres or art galleries and organise events, as well as creating art themselves with and for service users. They have regular meetings with each other, sharing best practices, networking and coming up with new ideas. 

They also take a leading role in the Cultural Profiling of new arrivals. Resident Assessment Instrument (RAI) documents are used to collect data on new residents, and background data to assess one’s cultural needs is collected in addition to considering one’s physical functioning as standard. When approaching older people, the problem is that we tend to see them as one unified group. Cultural Profiling is a tool to identify the individual and helps us to understand diversity in older people. Information collected includes: 

  • Educational attainments and former occupations 
  • Personal goals and how these have been attained 
  • Interests and preferred recreational activities 
  • Social involvement and time management before arriving at a care facility 

Once this data has been collected, it is regularly reviewed in the same way as any other aspect of a care plan. As a result of these introductions, senior centres in Helsinki have seen a wealth of benefits. They facilitate seamless knowledge transfer between different professionals involved in care, and have helped integrate creativity, cultural activities and arts-based care into services for the elderly. It is systematically ensured that people are able to enjoy their cultural rights, which has resulted in an improvement in mental wellbeing, functional capacity and community connections between those using care services. 

It’s clear there is a case for more systematic and structured links between the health and social care and creative arts sectors. I wonder what kind of impact we might see in the UK if artistic and creative experiences were assessed and documented as stringently as nutrition or medication. What would care look like if it was developed with the complete picture of the individual in mind, consistent with their artistic needs, hopes and dreams?  

Certainly as the National Day of Arts in Care Homes approaches on Sunday 24th September, organisers NAPA have been sent lots of fantastic examples of arts activities taking place in care settings around the country which everyone seems to be very much enjoying!  

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