The arts are something that even the least artistically inclined likely imagine, are important and beneficial. Even if we don’t quite understand why the arts are an invaluable element within our social fabric: family, sports, religion, education, music, art. The list of things that bind us together in a society is long. More and more it is becoming clear that not only is art part of that fabric, it is a key element in our health, particularly in our senior years.
1. Participation in the visual arts improves psychological health, self-esteem and physical health
Research shows that participation in various art-forms: visual arts, music, writing, drama and the like, or observing one or more of these, can help improve emotional or physical health concerns. Being an artist or appreciating the creative talents of professionals or amateurs alike can also reduce stress, depression and other psychological concerns. It is worth noting that physical disease can be spurred by diminished psychological health. Doing all we can to increase good mental health is key to over-all health. Participating in the arts offers opportunities for expression in a solitary way and opens a world of social engagement as well. Participants in visual arts programs have reported an improvement in their individual life experience as well as in feelings of belonging and community. It is often connections with others that offer us purpose throughout our lives and particularly in later years when isolation is common.
2. Participation in the arts is a key element in the treatment of chronic, degenerative diseases
Drawing, painting, sculpting and other artistic engagements, can allow a person to express understanding of his condition, reducing stress. Couple this with actively creating and an older person can compensate for diminished capacities due to diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Research shows that the brain can use alternative strategies to address illness and engaging in creative activities can promote coordination of the two hemispheres of the brain. Those with Alzheimer’s disease have even been seen to reconnect with memories of the past when painting pictures of things that resonate with them.
3. Participation in arts can reduce despair and mortality
Learning something new such as how to draw or paint visual images that bring you joy can help you adjust to changes in later years. Engaging one’s mind in creative pursuits cannot replace losses nor remedy changes that may bring sadness or despair, such as the loss of a loved one or leaving one’s home for a retirement community, but artistic pursuits engage the mind in a future filled with the possibilities of whatever you can create. A study at the Harvard School of Public Health indicates that engagement in social activity reduces mortality for those over age 65.
4. Creating new neuro pathways
Creating art is shown not only to create new neuropathways but also to help the brain restructure as cells become incapacitated and new ones are created. In his book, published in 2000, Dr. Gene Cohen found that those who participated in artistic endeavors were both physically and mentally healthier than counterparts who did not engage in creative pursuits. https://phabc.org/health-voices/art-for-healthy-aging-another-prevention-strategy/
While each of us ages minute by minute we learn more about how to create and improve our health – typically, using food, and exercise as medicine, supported by a medical doctor and perhaps a few peri-medical practitioners if not just our own education and gumption. It is plain to see however, that there is much more to consider. We must ask ourselves, how are we living our every-day lives? It is clear to see that incorporating creation and creativity into our daily activities is a key element binding us together and in exercising our minds, bodies, and relationships. Art and the creative pathways down which it leads are also medicine as we age and experience illness in spite of all best efforts toward health. Artistic pursuits are available to us into our latter years and research shows us that not only are we able to learn and grow through creative activities throughout our lives, but that these pursuits are key elements in creating and maintaining health and even in addressing existing health concerns.
Looking for an adult day program?
Looking for an art class? (Discounts available for ages 60+)
Looking for support through creative pursuits for adults with Alzheimer’s or similar conditions? https://www.alz.org/contact_us.asp (Chicago) Art Gallery of Ontario: https://www.thestar.com/life/2016/04/25/how-toronto-museums-are-helping-people-with-alzheimers-experience-art-even-if-they-cant-remember-it.html
Further Reading: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/