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How the Arts Can Reduce Anxiety and Be of Emotional Benefit to Older People

By Anthony Cirillo September 04, 2018 Caregiving

Createquity is an online think tank that helps make sense of the news and research in the arts world. Their review of the evidence that connects the arts with our emotions reveals four things:

  • Participatory arts activities, such as singing, playing a musical instrument, dancing and visual arts, help maintain health and quality of life in older adults.
  • Arts therapies contribute to positive clinical outcomes, such as reduction in anxiety, stress and pain for patients.
  • Arts participation in early childhood promotes social and emotional development.
  • Student participation in structured arts activities enhances cognitive abilities and social skills that support learning.

Sherita Sparrow, owner of The Feather’s Touch, is a firm believer that art projects for seniors can enhance their quality of life while helping them learn a new skill.

Her company brings a professional artist to help residents in care homes to express their talents. Sparrow’s observations of the benefits of art are backed up by scientific research.

Joseph LeDoux, a behavioral neuroscientist at New York University, discovered new learning experiences boost the development and improve the information processing and memory storage in brains in mid-life and older.

People with dementia living in nursing homes that implemented a music and memory program were more likely to cease using antipsychotic and antianxiety drugs and engage in fewer problematic behaviors.

Here are some my takeaways from the arts research.

Embrace the Arts at Any Age

In Sherita’s classes, people who could not draw a straight line learned to draw. I see that with music. When I perform, once shy people begin to participate. Older folks struggling for purpose might consider taking up some form of art activity to help them carry through life.

Make Art a Social Event

Younger folks are into all kinds of wine events. Wine and music. Wine and painting. Wine and dancing. So, get in on that. Organize a local paint and sip event or something similar.

Make Arts Intergenerational

There is a lot of research on the importance of arts to younger people. So why not make art an intergenerational experience? Learn painting with the grandkids. Learn an instrument. Have children visit care homes and participate with residents in art projects.

Reach Out to Care Homes

The people who need to continue to have purpose and keep their social networks active are older adults in care homes, many still isolated in their rooms. Help bring them out of their shell. Volunteer to teach a class.

The daughter of a woman who continued her love of art in the nursing home thanked the art therapist at her mom’s funeral for the last art piece created by her as it became a treasured gift.

Art, whether in a group or one-on-one can enhance the quality of life for older adults.

Which forms of art interest you? Have you used art or any other form of creativity as a means of expressing the emotions and challenges of getting older? If you are a caregiver, have you used the arts to build and develop a communication framework with your loved one? Please share the art you enjoy and how it has helped you in your life journey.

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The Author

Anthony Cirillo is founder of Sage Stream, the Senior Entertainment/Education Network and president of The Aging Experience, which helps people and companies prepare for aging before it becomes a crisis. A health and aging expert, professional speaker, and media influencer, he is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives with a master’s from the University of Pennsylvania. Anthony serves as a Policy RoundTable member for Nationwide Financial and Bank of America.

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