Groundbreaking research reveals that creativity plays a very significant role in healthy living and successful aging. Various studies show getting involved in creative activity improves physical and cognitive health, and promotes a sense of well-being.
And for older adults, simply engaging in creative activities is most important, rather than the outcome, because it strengthens their sense of self and beliefs about their capabilities.
The groundbreaking research in this area investigated the health impact on older adults who participated in professionally-led chorale groups. Study participants had improved physical and mental health in the form of fewer doctor visits, fewer falls, lower rates of medication usage, and lower levels of depression, and these results were still seen one year later.
Here are several more examples of the many proven benefits of creative activities for older adults; they:
- Help older adults maintain mental flexibility, cope with adversity, maximize social relationships, find their “inner voice,” and deepen self-understanding and meaning.
- Foster a sense of competence, purpose, growth, and a perception of successful aging. In one study, older adults who participated in creative activities showed improved problem- solving ability, self-esteem, and coping skills.
- Improve quality of life among those who are medically ill, including those with Parkinson’s disease. In one study, clay manipulation reduced both bodily and emotional symptoms of Parkinson’s.
- Help lower anxiety levels, improve life satisfaction, and reduce depression and hypochondriasis. They influence the autonomic nervous system, stabilize heart rate and hormone levels, and stimulate the release of endorphins (a neurotransmitter associated with a feeling of well-being).
- Increase the brain’s production of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter involved in memory), which positively influences memory and intellectual processing. Older adults in an acting group, for example, showed improvements in word recall and problem solving.
- Listening to music can reduce chronic pain, depression and anxiety. Playing a musical instrument and learning to read music can improve older adults’ executive functioning, mood, and psychological and physical quality of life.
- Arts activities that stimulate cognitive functioning can benefit those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, reducing depression and isolation; art therapy can improve vitality and quality of life for people with mild Alzheimer’s.
New and Traditional Types of Creativity
Creativity can be expressed in many ways, from activities such as art, dance, and music to making new social connections, exercise, taking a walk in nature and meditating.
Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner believes that every person has a unique blend of seven to ten different types of intelligence; and just as people tend to favor one or two types of intelligence that come easily to them, people will likely find certain creative activities more appealing.
Here are some suggested creative activities – traditional and new – based on Gardner’s types of intelligence:
- Social/interpersonal — Start or join a discussion group or salon (e.g., Socrates\Cafe), get together regularly with friends, join a league or club, Skype regularly with family or friends at a distance.
- Musical — Learn to play (or replay) an instrument, attend a concert or musical, sing or hum, listen to music, explore musical options on the computer (iTunes, Pandora).
- Spatial — Draw, paint (a picture or a room), sculpt, scrapbook, create an online photo book, take an art class, make cards by hand or using a computer, design a new garden or landscaping, learn how to decorate cakes.
- Bodily/kinesthetic — Walk, golf, bike, do yoga or Pilates, swim, take a walking tour, dance, take acting classes or join a community theater troupe.
- Logical/mathematical — Do puzzles, organize a collection, play strategy games (checkers, chess) or cards.
- Verbal/linguistic — Tell stories, write, join a book club or writing group.
- Intrapersonal — Read, keep a journal, meditate, record a personal history, write an autobiography or poetry.
- Naturalistic — Walk in the woods or on the beach, collect rocks or seashells, garden, bird-watch, take photographs of landscapes and nature.
Remember, creativity is not about being the next Rembrandt—it’s about finding activities that people are interested in, attracted to, and are willing to try or do.
Tips for Helping Older Adults Discover Their Creativity
- Recognize many older adults might not describe themselves as creative and may be reluctant to engage in creative activities. Remind them that creativity can be expressed in many ways.
- Explore what your older clients have ever done creatively and what they would like to do now. If they have not been creatively engaged, ask what has prevented them from that.
- Introduce the possibility of being creatively involved. Ask which activity they would consider or choose. Share examples to give them ideas.
- Discuss how to get involved. Help connect them to resources in their local community and websites where they can explore different programs and activities.
- Encourage them to bring a friend along. It may be easier (and more fun) to start something new with a companion.
- Encourage them to try an activity or multiple activities once or twice before deciding whether or not they like it.
- Ask them to report back to you. If you don’t hear from them, follow up with them to express your interest in their well-being and offer your help if needed.
Creativity is powerful. Whether expressed through movement, performance, art, writing, inventions, ideas, recipes, or simply a change in routine, creativity involves opening to new possibilities. And it’s available to everyone, anytime, to benefit every part of wellness.
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Society of Certified Senior Advisors, Working with Older Adults: A Professional’s Guide to Contemporary Issues of Aging (2015). Adapted from Maximizing Integrity in Decisions with Seniors. Copyright © 2005 by WebCE LP LLLP. Used with permission of WebCE LP LLLP.