Artful Home Care: Aging on the East End

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From left, Beth McNeill-Muhs, Linda Ford Blaikie (Ayres), Bob Schwartz, Gail Baranello, Gary Osborne, Nicole MacCallum, Zoe Kamitses and her dog Jack at Saturday's conference. Rachel Bosworth photo

Quality of life is at the center of both a caregiver’s work and what an individual hopes to maintain as they age. Endeavoring to shift the conversation and focus of what getting older means, Artful Home Care president and founder Beth McNeill-Muhs has introduced a collaborative lecture series inviting artistic healers, alternative therapy advocates and health care providers to discuss a whole life approach within the East End community. On Saturday, May 11, at the Southampton Arts Center, panelists gathered to discuss how to approach well-being through a holistic perspective for all that participate in this journey.

Moderated by McNeill-Muhs, the panel included nurse, psychologist and writer Linda Ford Blaikie (Ayres), Bob Schwartz, the author of “How Did That Old Fart Get into My Mirror,” co-owner of A&G Dance Company and founder of “Moving Through” workshops Gail Baranello, life coach and art healer Gary Osborne, certified nurse’s aide and senior caregiver Nicole MacCallum and Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons board member and pet therapy advocate Zoe Kamitses. Discussing the balance between holistic and medical healing, they focused on how alternative methods offer emotional and physical support, social and physical engagement and artistic expression.

“We are moving toward a more mindful culture and society,” McNeill-Muhs, a former private art dealer, said on the importance of art, dance, writing, pet therapy and more as possible healing tools. “In doing so we must explore ways to empower ourselves and lead our best possible life.”

Storytelling serves as a means for one of the fundamental human needs: to be seen. Whether through writing, as Blaikie, Schwartz and McNeill-Muhs have individually found helpful, or visual and physical expressions through movement and art, each adds to quality of life even when dexterity may be lost for some, said panelists. MacCallum explained that as a caregiver she becomes close with clients and can write on their behalf or help them hold a paint brush, allowing an individual to maintain their sense of self. It shifts the experience from frustration into a new way of doing things, she said.

Expressing emotion through movement can provide relief from the physical weight these feelings can hold. Baranello’s five-week grief workshop focuses on various stages, connecting dance and therapy as one. With visual art specifically, Osborne has found it’s about teaching the relationship between discovery, wonder, color and form. The medium through which it is interpreted, perhaps graphite on paper, watercolor or even doll making, helps develop the communication between individuals.

“The most important connection is the human connection,” Osborne said of how working alongside the elderly and their caregiver can offer the same benefit. “With that wonder and beauty, I can create any type of scenario that brings that about. Whether it be simply holding a paintbrush and having that wet piece of watercolor paper, taking the paintbrush and putting yellow and experiencing yellow on the paper. How does that feel and what’s the communication of experiencing that color?”

There is something to be said as well about the caregiver themselves. Kamitses volunteers weekly at the Southampton Hospital Kanas Center for Hospice Care to take her rescue dogs Jack, who joined her on stage, and Charlie Dickens to spend time with patients. Just the overall experience of having a friendly, non-judgmental being in a room to spend time and socialize with has a profound effect on patients. Dogs can evoke positive memories with patients often sharing their own stories of dogs they have owned.

For those in or entering elder years, being open and staying connected with others is essential to their quality of life. For caregivers, listening and also realizing when your job is done that you still have a life to live is crucial. Schwartz, who was married for 57 years, served as his late wife’s sole caregiver. Joking that the average age of his circle of acquaintances was deceased, he had found himself alone in the process of caring for someone he loved and who loved him. Art became a tool for his own healing as he discovered sculpture while writing a book. When working on art, the job is never done.

Schwartz found a hobby was a lifesaver. “One thing I learned early on is that this could really kill you,” he shared of getting lost in being a caregiver. “Someone I had spoken to that was very wise said the first thing you have to do is take care of yourself. If you’re not in shape to take care of yourself, you’re certainly not in shape to take care of somebody else.”

By collaborating with cultural centers, community centers, libraries, rehab centers and more, Artful Home Care offers innovative and recreational therapeutic tools for healing, including creative arts, music, animal therapy, meditation and more. The next lecture will take place on Saturday, June 8, at 3 p.m. at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Learn more at artfulhomecare.net.

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