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The Benefits of Art for Older Adults

"Art is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in human happiness. It trains the mind through the eye, and the eye through the mind. As the sun colours flowers, so does art colour life." ― John Lubbock

It is a commonly known saying that the scientific fields allow us to live, while the humanistic ones give us a reason to. Rarely are things this binary, however. Art, too, allows us to live in ways that may be surprising. It fosters skills and cognitive health that is especially beneficial to older adults. With our Art Together group beginning its run, we welcome you to learn about some of the amazing benefits of participating in art activities.


Art can benefit a person in so many ways, especially as we age. Below are some examples of the benefits:

Increased Motor Skills:


  • With age often comes declining motor skills and arthritis, which can make it seem as if art, which usually requires the use of one's hands, might be out of reach for older adults. Quite the opposite is true. While it may be more difficult to begin, or may cause some pain if done for too long, the benefits of slowly easing yourself into art are immense.

  • Creating art, such as through drawing, painting, weaving, sewing, knitting, crocheting, or playing music, all work on the hands and mind, increasing hand to eye coordination. Motor skills, which often decline in later life, are tested and strengthened with activities that can be adjusted to the comfort level of the participant. Painting with acrylic, for example, puts less stress on the hands than drawing, and crocheting requires less fine motor skills and works better for shaking hands than painting.

  • Cortical activity rises, giving the brain a good work out, when art is engaged. Art has a significant higher success rate in increasing cortical activity than rote motor tasks, and it comes with the other benefits outlined here! (King, et al., 2017)

Cognitive Stimulation:


  • As with motor skills, art helps strengthen cognitive function. When drawing, the artist (which refers to any person who has the courage to pick up a pencil!) must go through many steps in order to create;

  • they must use their skill of imagination and pattern creation to discover an idea of what to draw;

  • they may use their skills of memory to think back on something they've seen before, such as a flower, and try to recreate its shape;

  • they must use their motor skills to connect the image in their mind with what their hands are creating;

  • they must think critically of color, if using it, and how they connect (do these two colors look good together? Is this a good color to use for this part?);

  • often, they have to use patterns, math, and counting simple numbers when crocheting or sketching out their ideas;

  • with abstract arts, the artist may need to not only imagine a real object, but then use their creative skills and pattern finding skills to abstract and simplify the image in their mind to create their abstract work

It leads to Improved Mood and Self Esteem:

Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.

― Stella Adler

  • Art helps boost mood in a number of ways, including by lowering symptoms of depression (Ilali, 2018) and anxiety (Shella, 2017).

  • Creating a piece of artwork you are proud of helps boost self-esteem.

  • Art, as any skill, is something you can practice and improve; that improvement will make you feel better, like you've progressed, and will give you that sweet dopamine hit!

  • The often repetitive action of drawing and other art types can be relaxing.

Social Connections and Communication:

While drawing I discover what I really want to say.

― Dario Fo

  • Art allows for a different level of communication; emotions that may not be easily said could be painted with a stroke of a brush. As Henry Ward Beecher once said, “Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.”

  • Those who are unable to communicate or have issues doing so could convey their emotions through art. One example may be children, who don't yet know all the words but know angry harsh lines, but older adults who suffer from dementia may also find this means of communication fulfilling.

Art has a great effect on people, and though it is a skill that can be honed, the creation of art is open to everyone, as are all of the benefits. If you'd like to further your own journey into art, please sign up for our Art Together group!



Written by Aleksandra Bator


Additional reading:

Art Therapy Association

Art Therapy Blog

AARP on Art and Dementia


References:


Ilali, E. S., Mokhtary, F., Mousavinasab, N., & Tirgari, A. H. (2018). Impact of Art-Based Life Review on Depression Symptoms Among Older Adults. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 35(3), 148–155. https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/10.1080/07421656.2018.1531276


King, J., Knapp, K., Shaikh, A., Fang Li, F., Sabau, D., Pascuzzi, R., & Osburn, L. (2017). Cortical activity changes after art making and rote motor movement as measured by EEG: A preliminary study. Biomedical Journal of Science & Technical Research, 1 (4). Open Access at DOI:10.26717/BJSTR.2017.01.000366.


Shella, T. (2017). Art therapy improves mood, and reduces pain and anxiety when offered at bedside during acute hospital treatment. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 57, 59-64.


Wyatt-Brown, A. M. (2016). Dementia arts: Celebrating creativity in elder care, By Gary Glazner. Educational Gerontology, 42(4), 292–293. https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook.edu/10.1080/03601277.2015.1109407

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