Finding Your Inner Artist as You Get Older

It’s never too late to develop your creativity, whether you’re picking up a long-lost hobby or developing a new passion. Psychologist Frances Toder found that out when she took up both the cello and creative writing after she retired. Encouraged by her own experiences, Toder began researching the study of creativity and aging and was surprised by what she learned; scientists believe that the age of 60 on may actually be the best time in life to begin a creative pursuit. Toder went on to explore the subject further in The Vintage Years: Finding Your Inner Artist (Writer, Musician, Visual Artist) After SixtyAccording to Toder, contrary to what we may believe, our brain actually continues to grow new connections and becomes more efficient as we age; along the way, the wisdom we acquire over the years enhances the expression of art.

The field of creativity and aging first received widespread attention with the efforts of the late gerontologist Gene Cohen, who conducted the first-ever national study on the effect of community-based cultural programs on the general health, mental health, and social activities of those 65 and older. His report found that those involved in participatory arts programs enjoyed better health, had fewer doctor visits, used less medication, and were more involved in activities overall. The research that Cohen began sparked a growing movement that has seen the establishment of such programs and resources as the Summit on Creativity and Aging, and “The Artful Aging Resource Guide.”

Fostering creativity among seniors has many benefits. According to neuropsychologist Theo Tsaousides, author of Brainblocks: Overcoming the 7 Hidden Barriers to Success, engaging in different types of creative pursuits is mentally challenging, which makes the brain work harder, which means it stays sharper. “A sharper mind can protect the elderly from getting into accidents—like falls, help them make better decision, allow them to function more independently, and encourage them to keep learning new things,” says Tsaousides.

Creative arts can also provide the voice your parent may need to relate their life stories, or the impetus to unlock lost memories.

Mom and Dad don’t have to be budding Picassos to benefit from art of any kind. SYNERGY HomeCare, for example, recently launched a coloring book campaign and also holds coloring events at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and senior centers. Coloring is easy, inexpensive, and an activity that can be enjoyed by seniors with their adult children and grandchildren. SYNERGY has even made tear-out coloring sheets that can be downloaded free of charge that you can use with your parents.

If there’s an art museum in your town, find out if they have programs for older visitors. New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), for example, offers Prime Time, a program of art classes and art discussions for seniors. And in St. Louis, Kemper Art Reaches Everyone (KARE), sponsored by the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University, is designed for people with early-onset to moderate Alzheimer’s. Seniors can attend free monthly sessions that combine the making of art with conversation and light physical exercise to “awaken” participants both physically and mentally.

Step it up

Enjoying dance doesn’t mean you have to be a prima ballerina. At Wake Forest University, dance professor Christina Soriano teaches weekly movement classes to older adults with neuro-degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. She has found that dance helps adults with early-stage dementia become more aware of their surroundings, as well as feel more self-confident, enjoy a better quality of life, and show more empathy for others .

In Baltimore, Cheryl Goodman, Director of Dance Baltimore, has also found that dance is an enjoyable ‘sart form to pursue, no matter how old you are. Dance Baltimore’s annual “Ageless Grace” performance is made up of dancers–professional and recreational alike–who range in age from their 40s through their 70s.

Goodman says the annual concert is one of the company’s most inspiring and popular productions. “The dancers onstage are older, but our audience for this event is always mixed in age, with everyone touched by seeing life so passionately and continuously expressed, regardless of age.”

Sing, sing, sing

Older adults who love to sing have numerous opportunities, from church and community choirs to immersion programs such as Berkshire Choral International, which pairs amateur singers with professional conductors and symphonies in locations around the world. Singers hone their skills for one week, get tips on how to improve, and end their experience by putting on a concert. In addition to the educational and travel component, the “choral camp” provides opportunities to socialize and improve health; studies have shown that singing helps with lung function, keeps mental faculties sharp, and eases anxiety that can lead to depression.

“Creativity allows us to find different ways to see the world,” says Tsaousides. “It makes us more open to new experiences, which provides us with the stimulation we need to keep our spirits high.”

Working with your parents on a creative project allows you to explore your thoughts and feelings together, which can bring you closer to each other.

Looking for more ideas on getting active? Check out our posts on volunteering:
The Benefits of Volunteering and How Technology Can Help
A Chance to Make a Difference

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