The many benefits of art therapy for seniors

Art therapy for seniorsMore than just a pastime, art is a huge contributor to wellbeing

Never underestimate the power of creativity. As we grow out of childhood and become adults, going out into the wide world to do serious things like earning a living and paying the bills, it’s easy to lose that connection with the things we loved as children. Painting, sculpture, music, poetry, plays… they seem to fall off the agenda so easily. Whether this is good and healthy is another matter. Scientists, researchers and those working in aged care all over Australia, and around the world, are reporting on the positive effects art therapy can have for seniors. People who engage in creative pursuits when they’re older – even with conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s – can experience a range of physical, cognitive and psychological benefits.

Never underestimate the power of creativity. As we grow out of childhood and become adults, going out into the wide world to do serious things like earning a living and paying the bills, it’s easy to lose that connection with the things we loved as children. Painting, sculpture, music, poetry, plays… they seem to fall off the agenda so easily. Whether this is good and healthy is another matter. Scientists, researchers and those working in aged care all over Australia, and around the world, are reporting on the positive effects art therapy can have for seniors. People who engage in creative pursuits when they’re older – even with conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s – can experience a range of physical, cognitive and psychological benefits.

A holistic program

Residents of our care homes love the music, art therapy and craft sessions held as part of the holistic lifestyle program of activities at Twilight Aged Care. The atmosphere is lifted with the joie de vivre that creativity brings, increasing happiness and wellbeing, while reducing anxiety. Cognitive function often improves, as does the ability of some residents to recall past experiences, reminisce and tell stories. There are thousands of anecdotes from around the world about how art therapy has helped seniors with dementia. Patients with the condition who once said and did very little can suddenly become unlocked, creating beautiful collages and paintings representing their experiences. Some people give up creating because of the disease. However, when they start painting again, with practice, they can regain the ability to perform delicate brush strokes and paint striking images. In other cases, art therapy sessions have led to the renewal of other hobbies as well, such as cooking. Those who’ve taken art therapy – whether they have dementia or not – will often tell you that their art inspires them and gives new meaning to their lives.

Scientific evidence

Plenty of research is available supporting the case for art therapy. Three studies are quoted on the Ikon Institute of Australia’s website a body that trains art therapists. In Massachusetts, therapist Doric Henry-Lee found that 20 older adults with various impairments who learned Eastern Method pottery experienced less depression and anxiety, and improved self-esteem. The control group of 20 who did not take art therapy saw no improvements. In the UK, a joint study between universities in Sussex and London found that, over 10 weeks, a group of Alzheimer’s patients that took art therapy sessions improved their cognitive abilities and reduced their feelings of depression. The control group, which socialised and talked but did not take art therapy saw no benefits. And the University of California’s Dr Bruce Miller ran a study which concluded that art and musical abilities can improve even when a patient has a condition that is causing language loss. New pathways in the brain can still form, helping the patient to enjoy creativity.

Everyone is creative

Many people go for years without nurturing their creative side. Others remain creative but give up in old age. What we like to say is that everybody is creative, no matter their skills, age or background. Picking up a paintbrush, making something with your hands, dancing, playing an instrument or singing often brings back memories but it can also uncover hidden talents. These activities for seniors are just some of the ways we support the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of our residents.

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