Sonia Usatch-Kuhn

Sonia Usatch-Kuhn Headshot


North Carolina

Security and comfort are common human goals. And yet neuroscience reveals that living life in the same way every day, as comfortably and securely as possible, can increase cognitive impairment as we age. The brain requires challenge and new learning in order to stay healthy.  Therefore, a willingness to try new things and an adventurous attitude are important to healthy aging. It is this kind of spirit I encountered when I spoke with Sonia Usatch-Kuhn, who has adopted the practice of living outside her comfort zone.

Ms. Usatch-Kuhn's foray into creative exploration began in her 40s, during a time of transition. She returned to school and registered for a creative writing course, and the professor encouraged her to continue to write. She joined a poetry workshop group and was subsequently invited to be a guest reader on a local radio program called "The Sounds of Poetry." This led to an opportunity for her to produce and co-host the show over the next three years.

Ms. Usatch-Kuhn would be the first to say that creative expression is not about talent, but about the willingness to have faith in your natural ability. "One's natural ability," she emphasizes, "is ageless." It is that faith which enabled her to continue exploring her creative abilities, particularly with older adults. Forming a theatric group called PLAYing aROUND, this intergenerational group mounted three original productions, which were performed at assisted living facilities in New York. Ms. Usatch-Kuhn also formed I AM, a program for the residents of assisted living facilities. Under her direction, sixteen participants ranging in age from 78 to 101, participated in the writing of a book of poetic memoir titled "Living in the Rooms of our Lives."

Now 69 and living in North Carolina, Ms. Usatch-Kuhn continues to encourage seniors to explore their creative gifts. Her mental aerobics program Gray Matters enourages older adults to participate in yoga, poetry, humor, games, song, debate, theatrics and writing, no matter what limitations exist. "A focus on inclusion," she explains, "is more important than the end result."

As to what motivates her, Usatch-Kuhn states, "Working with mature and experienced people is an opportunity to witness and share in the joy of the creative spirit, theirs and my own."

Laura Swett: What do you see as the biggest obstacle to creative aging?
Sonia Usatch-Kuhn: I believe the greatest obstacle to creative aging is the perception that older people have lost passion and faith, necessary ingredients for living a rich and full life. Given the chance, the doldrums can be removed and replaced with a desire to reach out, feel the excitement, and become a participant.

LS: What wisdom can you pass on about aging?
SU: Aging is kind of like the lottery: you have to be in it to win it. If you want your life to be fulfilling and rich, you have to participate! Think about what you may have wanted years ago that you could not do. At the very least give it a try. Have enthusiasm, be excited; otherwise life is dull.



Earlier this year, Sonia Usatch-Kuhn's short story The Birthday Party was published in the 2011 winter edition of Main Street Rag.  She is currently compiling and editing The Book of Asher, a memoir about a beloved community leader.

Monday, November 7, 2011 at 10:12AM

Written By: Laura Swett

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