The majority of seniors can reap great benefits from engaging in different art forms, and some may improve their quality of life through doing art therapy. Taking part in artistic activities and engaging in therapeutic processes with art are both valuable but in unique ways.
Doing Art Can Positively Influence Senior Health
As we age, participation in the arts positively affects our health. The Creativity and Aging Study conducted between 2001 and 2007 with Gene Cohen, MD, Ph.D., as the primary investigator, strongly supports this. Cohen and others involved in the study found seniors active in arts had better physical health, fewer visits to the doctor required less medication, and fell less frequently than those in the study not involved in arts. Arts in the study referred to “art and cultural disciplines, such as painting, pottery, dance, music, poetry, drama, material culture, and oral histories in a creative context.” The study’s results reinforce the need for these types of activities in senior living communities.
Many other sources also speak to health benefits of art for seniors. At the 2016 National Center for Creative Aging Conference, National Taiwan University Professor Peishan Yang shared results of the History Alive and Legacy Art Work programs that have served 60,000 older adults since 2005. She said participants had decreased rates of depression and loneliness, as well as higher morale and better hand dexterity. They also had improved mood and confidence that flowed into different areas of their lives.
Additional positive insight was given in Geriatric Monthly by Barbara Bagan, PhD, ATR-BC. Bagan stated that “expressive art activity” may:
- Aid in relaxation, anxiety, and depression
- Give feelings of control
- Improve communication and socialization (which are very important)
- Encourage humor and playfulness
- Improve cognition
- Offer sensory stimulation
- Foster a strong sense of identity
- Bolster self-esteem
- Nurture faith
- Reduce boredom
Art Therapy Participation
In art therapy, seniors may take part in the arts, but as initiated by professional art therapists with personal and relational treatment goals, as well as community concerns.
“Art Therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship,” according to the American Art Therapy Association.
Utilizing Art Therapy, with the guidance of a credentialed art therapist, individuals can ‘decode’ the nonverbal messages, symbols, and metaphors often found in art forms which “should lead to a better understanding of their feelings and behavior so they can move on to resolve deeper issues.”
Art therapy isn’t about being the best artist in the room. It’s about the connections between creative choices made and one’s inner life.
Art Therapy Engages the Mind, Body, and Spirit to:
- improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions
- foster self-esteem and self-awareness
- cultivate emotional resilience
- promote insight
- enhance social skills
- reduce and resolve conflicts and distress
- advance societal and ecological change
Art Therapy in Memory Care
In Memory Care, art therapy can have transformative effects. Art therapists aim to improve life for memory care individuals by presenting creative opportunities for them to express feelings and experiences and strengthen connections to others at the moment. A senior who can no longer write or use language cohesively may be able to paint in many colors or reveal a part of their past in an image. Due to such expressions, family and friends often feel strengthened connections.
Art Therapist Resources: Find an Art Therapist utilizing the American Art Therapy Association’s locator tool.
It is exciting to see the studies coming out that show just how much art has an effect on seniors lives, whether by itself or in therapy.