The Benefits of Art For Seniors

My Mother who was creative all her life was most intrigued by pottery in her final years. She would spend hours in the basement of her home crafting jewelry, pots, cups and saucers, serving bowls and various other creations using clay; “playing in the mud” as my stepfather would dismissively refer to it. Nevertheless, she persisted and had a garage full of her creations. Some were beautiful, some were practical and useful and others were just a little weird, true manifestations of her prolific imagination – little creatures she called “whimsies,” all with their distinct soul and personality. What are the benefits of art for seniors?

One of the most important consequences of creativity would be enhanced cognitive function followed by psychological and physiological healing. The act of creation can reduce depression and allay anxiety, two conditions which are common to the elderly. There are numerous other positives when it comes to the creation of any work of art.

What drives us to want to create?                                                          Senior-painting

Seniors and Art go together. At a time when our lifespan is shortened and we finally have the time to explore our creative impulses, we feel an urgency to use our remaining years to express ourselves, validate our feelings, act out, be heard and make our mark while we still can.  “Unlived potential” is about to get real.

For many, that inner, authentic self, ignored for decades is now being dusted off and rediscovered. Creating can become compelling because not since childhood have we had so much freedom to explore our inner life. We have decades of experience and observations to integrate into some form of art. Now we can indulge that nagging muse and acts of  creativity and self-expression cab hold sway.

Universal themes are explored

Themes are things that bridge our humanity: the universal common experiences and concerns, our love of things beautiful and our horror of mans’ depravity. Life’s conditions are universal no matter who we are or where we live. People everywhere and anywhere paint to express those themes, or compose poetry, or write fiction. Others sculpt, and some compose music. A compelling need to express drives all works of art. A mysterious muse, or call it energy, urges us to give expression to a very personal interpretation of the world around us.

Senior's artwork

What happens when we create?

Self-esteem is enhanced through creative expression. We create something from nothing and we become builders. In so doing, we feel engaged and authentic. A blank piece of paper fills with words and becomes a poem or the beginning of a novel. A canvas is flooded with colors and shapes. A lump of wet clay is molded into something tangible, possibly useful, maybe something beautiful. Problem-solving and motor skills are tested. Our mind is active and we are focused.

There is an energy in waiting within us that demands attention when we have a creative impulse. To respond to that impulse alleviates any boredom in our lives and relieves the stress created by that nagging muse. It can be a catharsis. What was once an inner intangible impulse has now materialized into something tangible.

Feelings difficult to articulate can be expressed through art, and its interpretation left to the audience. We take away from any work of art whatever speaks to us.

A close friend of mine who was First Nations once told me that her band believed that if you were born with a talent, which was interpreted as a gift…and you did not use that gift, it would turn its energy against you. In other words, there was a belief that any talent was energy waiting to make itself seen or heard.

Where do we join an artistic community?                                                                    Mon's-artwork

So what do we do with this impulse to create? Today, information on becoming a member of any arts community is available with a click of the mouse on Google, Facebook..or Linked In.

In addition, many courses are now available online making art education available to those living in rural areas. You no longer have to live in a major urban center in order to become involved and educate yourself. That said, my personal preference is to socialize and learn in a group setting where everyone shares their experience and learns from one another.

The importance of art is now being recognized by the enlightened administers of Seniors’ Centres, Retirement Residences and long-term Care Nursing Homes. Not many seniors are inspired by attending a Doughnut Social as is so well expressed by Tim Carpenter, founder of EngAGE who advocates for Thriving as we Age:

 

Hannah-Brown-paintingArt is something we can engage in over a lifetime

My Mother resided in long-term care for the last 11 years of her life, where she continued her art. At this point in her life, into her mid-90s and having survived a serious head injury, cognitive issues rendered her creations childlike but they were colorful and whimsical and filled the walls of her room, making it undeniably and uniquely hers.

Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso – also known as Pablo Picasso created art until his death at age 91. Apparently retirement from art and creation was not a part of his life plan.

And Einstein who died at 76 years of age expressed that had he not become a physicist, he would have pursued music studies and become a musician.

Each artistic endeavor has something to offer its practitioners, art being an exploration drawing on ones’s past, present and aspirational future. It is a freedom zone – a completely other reality, an expression completely unique to the artist.

  • Music improves connectivity in our brain
  • the Acting profession with its emphasis on memory improves word search and listening recall.
  •  Writing is therapy and journalling about trauma apparently improves one’s immune system.
  • The same holds true for listening to music. From Medical News Today, in an article by Maria Cohut, Ph.D., Ms. Cohut states “… music may help to restore effective functioning in the immune system partly via the actions of the amygdala and hypothalamus. These brain regions are implicated in mood regulation and hormonal processes, as well as in the body’s inflammatory response.”
  • Dance is promoted as not only a pleasurable way to move but one which can enhance physical fitness. My Mother at 93 was still a Zumba enthusiast, wearing her signature earrings and dancing along with the younger seniors while unknowingly benefiting from decreasing her blood pressure and triglyceride levels.

The benefits of art for seniors are overwhelmingly positive: engagement with life, engagement with others, improved well being, psychological and physiological healing and a reduction in depression and anxiety.

When it comes to holistic health, one might rightly assume that creative endeavors are on par with pharmaceutical interventions without the side effects.