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Arts programming serves as a platform for communication and knowledge translation for older adults

Archibald M & Kitson A. Using the arts for awareness, communication and knowledge translation in older adulthood: A scoping review Arts & Health. 2019; 1-7.

Review question

      How are the arts being used to facilitate communication about ageing, ageing-related processes, and associated care?


      Art is an important part of culture as well as a powerful means of communicating about the human experience. Recognizing this, health researchers have begun to leverage the benefits of arts engagement in older adulthood.

      A growing body of research supports the positive effects of art on individuals, communities, and societies. Participation in art has been shown to reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and depressive symptoms; enhance social connectedness and community engagement; and improve self-efficacy, sense of purpose, health literacy, quality of life, and overall wellness.

      Importantly, art can also help older adults shift from a deficit to potential perspective of aging, whereby they recognize and celebrate their creativity and potential for growth rather than focusing on their diminishing mental or physical capabilities.

      This review aims to explore how arts can be used to facilitate communication about ageing, ageing-related processes, and associated care.

How the review was done

      Study authors searched 4 interdisciplinary databases for articles suitable for inclusion in this review.

      Keywords such as storytelling, art, arts-based, theatre, dance, older adult, knowledge translation, elderly and frailty were used in the search.

      Although results were restricted to English-language articles, no date limiters were placed on the studies.

      Of the 1,321 articles screened from the search results, 11 were included in the review.

What the researchers found

      Included studies focused on a variety of topics. Of these, dementia was the most common (45%), followed by centenarians (18%). Widowhood, isolation, older adulthood and frailty, and the ageing process were also represented to a smaller extent.

      Review authors also examined the process through which arts-based strategies were developed in the included studies. It was found that arts program development is often a linear process moving from the identification of a problem to the creation of a program to address it. During the problem identification phase, authors generally considered the suitability of the art form to the existing problem.

      It was found that all arts approaches incorporated at least one narrative component, most commonly through performance theatre.

      Most programs sought to either improve care, communication, attitudes, or participants’ engagement with life events.

      Some examples of interventions to address ageism, for example, included the creation of centenarians’ stories and the use of drama to provoke discussion about the issue at hand.


      This review provided an overview of the current stage of arts-based programming for older adults and mapped existing processes used to develop arts-based approaches to healthcare delivery.

      As the role of art engagement in older adulthood grows with evidence-based healthcare, study authors see a tremendous opportunity for researchers to develop further programming for the benefit of older adults.

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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 (

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