Wood carving, creative writing, knitting, photography, piano, painting, tango, theatre... and so on. Alone or in groups, older adults often engage in art, music, crafts and other creative activities. With more free time, many people see retirement as an opportunity to finally get back to their artistic passions.
The field of arts and health has been a thriving research sector for several decades.(1) Many arts and crafts activities are offered in nursing homes and other healthcare settings to promote health and prevent illness among older patients. Art therapy is gaining popularity because of the potential of artistic expression and creativity among patients to contribute to psychotherapeutic or personal development purposes.(2; 3) For example, many clinical studies have highlighted the positive effects of music to improve the physical and mental health of older adults with dementia and their caregivers,(4; 5) to reduce depression, and to improve physical function and quality of life for people who have had a stroke,(2) and to improve the health of people with mental health conditions.(3)
Taking part in any of these artistic activities may also be beneficial for older adults living in the community.
What the research tells us
Studies examining the quality of life of older adults have looked at the effects of various participatory forms of art (rather than older adults being mere spectators), including singing and music, crafts, painting and drawing, dance, theatre, creative writing, photography and film. Interestingly, these studies have not defined "quality of life" in the same way.(1) Some have focused on the physical and mental health of older adults, their social interactions, their ability to learn new things, their cognitive abilities, or their level of creativity. Few studies have examined the comparative effectiveness of these different artistic activities.(1) That being said, research evidence shows the positive effects on the health and well-being of older adults, their memory, their level of creativity, their ability to solve problems, their ability to carry out daily activities, and their reaction time, but also the capacity of participatory arts to reduce loneliness and social isolation.(1; 6; 7) Some studies also reveal that arts and crafts can foster more harmonious intergenerational relationships,(8) which may help to promote linguistic and cultural heritage (particularly for older adults living in linguistic and cultural minority situations).
Studies have also examined the effects of museum programs specifically designed for older adults. These may include reminiscence programs (for example, facilitating group discussions about personal memories, sometimes using some artwork or boxes of museum objects available for loan), storytelling programs (for example, writing prose or poetry using stimuli such as memories, music, objects, or images), or lectures specifically for elderly audiences. Research evidence shows that these museum programs can increase socialization and improve the mood of older adults.(9)
Get inspired and create your own art
Art may not be a panacea, but it looks promising to improve the health and well-being of older adults. It may be time to wake the artist inside you. Dust off the camera or the piano. If you are a caregiver, encourage your loved ones to pursue their artistic passions. Put their paint brushes within reach to facilitate their use. You could also promote (or participate in) arts and crafts activities in your community. Check out your local museums for activities dedicated to older adults. If nothing is currently offered in your community, why not join your local museum as a volunteer to help them develop such programs? To do so, many toolkits exist that can provide guidance about how to plan and support artistic activities in your community.(10; 11; 12)