Get back to your artistic passions to boost your health and well-being

The Bottom Line

  • Participating in artistic activities (i.e., singing, music, crafts, painting, drawing, dance, theatre, creative writing, photography and film) can help to reduce loneliness and social isolation.
  • Taking part in artistic activities has positive effects on the health and well-being of older adults, including their memory, level of creativity, ability to solve problems, ability to carry out daily activities, and reaction time.
  • Museum programs specifically designed for older adults can increase socialization and improve the mood of participants
  • Toolkits can help you plan and support arts and crafts activities for older adults in your community.

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)

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Author Details


  1. Fraser KD, O’Rourke HM, Wiens H, Lai J, Howell C, Brett-MacLean P. A scoping review of research on the arts, aging, and quality of life. The Gerontologist. 2015;55(4):719-729.
  2. Kongkasuwan R, Voraakhom K, Pisolayabutra P, Maneechai P, Boonin J, Kuptniratsaikul V. Creative art therapy to enhance rehabilitation for stroke patients: a randomized controlled trial. Clin Rehabil. 2016 Oct;30(10):1016-1023.
  3. Uttley L, Scope A, Stevenson M, Rawdin A, Taylor Buck E, Sutton A, et al. Systematic review and economic modelling of the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of art therapy among people with non-psychotic mental health disorders. Health Technol Assess. 2015 Mar;19(18):1-120, v-vi. 
  4. Elliott M & Gardner P.  The role of music in the lives of older adults with dementia ageing in place: A scoping review  Dementia. 2018 Feb; 17(2): 199-213.
  5. Konno R, Kang HS, Makimoto K  A best-evidence review of intervention studies for minimizing resistance-to-care behaviours for older adults with dementia in nursing homes Journal of Advanced Nursing. 2014;70(10):2167-80.
  6. Poscia A, Stojanovic J, Iganzio La Milia D, et al.  Interventions targeting loneliness and social isolation among the older people: An update systematic review  Experimental Gerontology. 2018, 102: 133-144.
  7. Noice T, Noice H, Kramer AF. Participatory arts for older adults: A review of benefits and challenges. The Gerontologist. 2014;54(5):741-753.
  8. Anderson S, Fast J, Keating N, Eales J, Chivers S, Barnet D. Translating knowledge promoting health through intergenerational community arts programming, Health Promotion Practice, 2017 Jan;18(1): 15-25.
  9. Smiraglia C. Targeted Museum Programs for Older Adults: A Research and Program Review. Curator - The Museum Journal, 2016, 58(1): 39-54.
  10. 2010 Legacies Now. Cultural Planning Toolkit: A partnership between 2010 Legacies Now and Creative City Network of Canada. [cited in September 2018]. Available at
  11.  Arts Health Network Canada. What is arts and health? Canada, 2014. [cited in September 2018]. Available at
  12. Public Health Agency of Canada. Age-friendly communities in Canada: Community implementation guide - Toolbox. Ottawa: Canada, 2012. [cited in September 2018]. Available at


DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.