Why Art Matters

We stimulate art appreciation while empowering caregivers to love people in creative and transformative ways. 

1. The latest research supports Hanna’s observation: the arts can keep you healthy. Creative activities raise self-esteem, increase enthusiasm for life, and result in fewer doctor visits, says Gene D. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., of George Washington University’s Center on Aging, Health and Humanities at The George Washington University Medical Center. Cohen’s ongoing study at GWU’s Center on Aging, Health and Humanities of approximately 300 men and women tracks several arts programs around the country. The arts participants, whose average age is 80, schedule fewer doctor appointments and use fewer medications than members of the control group (who are not involved in the arts). They also have fewer incidents of depression, higher morale, and more involvement in outside activities.

From: AARP website. “Lively Arts”

(http://www.aarp.org/learntech/1ifelong/ Articles/a2004-09-13-arts_new.html)


2. Activities that require seniors to think creatively can:



There is increasing scientific evidence that art therapy enhances brain function and that it

provides intellectual stimulation. And art therapy has been a go-to palliative care method for

persons experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s. We challenge seniors to look at things from a

different perspective.

In fact, with older adults who have experienced memory loss, this activity can stimulate their

senses and help to trigger forgotten memories. Learning new art forms improves thinking skills and

the ways that seniors make neural connections, something that may be lost as they age.



Focusing on a single task can help seniors to forget about pain. We’re not saying the pain goes

away. But not focusing on the pain for a little while can be a very good thing.



Art improves emotional balance, and this allows seniors to relieve stress and anxiety. As one

research paper noted, “engagement with creative activities has the potential to contribute toward

reducing stress and depression…”

So, art therapy for seniors should be about the creative process. Seniors are encouraged to focus

on expressing their feelings. And when they do so, it allows them to release the internal emotional

turmoil and reduce their stress levels. For example, art therapy is often used for dementia

patients. Memory loss is a stressful situation for both the seniors and their caregivers. So, in

addition to the medical benefits of art for dementia seniors, it is a calming and creative process

that can promote happy feelings. And this is a great start to alleviating stress in both seniors

and the people caring for them.



A study of seniors residing in a care home published in the Social Work in Health Care Journal

showed that art can help decrease depression and improve self-esteem. In fact, art therapy helps

with overall mental health for seniors. The authors noted that it could improve long-term care and

move it towards a “more diverse, unique, and innovative direction. “So, one way in which art

contributes to helping with depression is through what it does in our body. According to a

University of London Study, viewing art that the person sees as beautiful stimulates the instant

release of dopamine, a natural chemical in our body that makes us feel happier. Therefore, this feel-good neurotransmitter is very useful in battling depression.



Many art programs for seniors are done in a social setting. It’s an alternate way of interacting

with others, and it gives seniors a chance to create connections. This allows our older adults to

build relationships with other adults as well as their caregivers and helps alleviate the effects

of senior social isolation. This is especially important now that more seniors are affected by the

continued isolation due to COVID-19. And because art is an individual pursuit, you can still

practice it in a social setting and adhere to physical distancing requirements for health purposes.



For our seniors who find it difficult to communicate, art could be an outlet for expression. They

learn how to connect with themselves and others. And like with the benefits of socialization, it

helps to reduce the feelings of loneliness and isolation. It’s a great method for seniors to

connect with their loved ones, caregivers, and friends, especially if they’re impacted by memory

loss or affected by other issues that impact communication.



Finally, art can give seniors a chance to find a new creative outlet and a way of expressing

themselves. It can be a new form of self-expression if they’re lost their ability to speak or write

due to the effects of aging. When art allows seniors to address their values and beliefs, it can

lead to emotional and spiritual growth and improvement in their self-esteem. It can change seniors’

outlook on the world and how they view themselves in the world. This highlights the importance of

making sure that the activities we choose are culturally appropriate in addition to offering a

creative outlet. 

From: The National Institute on Aging, press release, April 5, 2004, “Creativity, Aging, and Health

Meeting,” Sponsored by the National Institute on Aging,

Society for the Arts in Healthcare.

Gay Hanna, Ph.D.

Executive Director, Society for the Arts in Healthcare (SAH)

“We know intuitively that art and creativity can dramatically improve older people’s quality of

life and health.”