We talk a lot about keeping our aging population healthy, and mental health is as important as physical health. Research indicates that creative activities can be beneficial in keeping the mind sharp and improving overall happiness. Exercising creativity enhances quality of life and nurtures overall well-being, and everyone has creative potential —not just a select few.
Research on music, theater, dance, creative writing, and other participatory arts shows promise for improving older adults’ quality of life and well-being, from better cognitive function, memory, and self-esteem to reduced stress and increased social interaction. Art comes in many forms, and the creation of art is an essential, vital component of activities that offer a wide range of health benefits. Several studies show that art can reduce the depression and anxiety that accompany chronic diseases. Other research demonstrates that the imagination and creativity of older adults can flourish in later life, helping them to realize unique, individual potentials, even when suffering from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Therapeutic art experiences can supply meaning and purpose to the lives of older adults in supportive, nonthreatening ways.
Neurological research shows that making art can improve cognitive functions by producing both new neural pathways and thicker, stronger dendrites. Thus, art enhances cognitive reserve, helping the brain actively compensate for pathology by using more efficient brain networks or alternative brain strategies. Making art or even viewing art causes the brain to continue to reshape, adapt, and restructure, thus expanding the potential to increase brain reserve capacity.
Dr. Bruce Miller, MD, a behavioral neurologist at University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, points out that, while brains inevitably age, creative abilities do not necessarily deteriorate. The aging brain has been shown to respond well to art by allowing the brain’s two hemispheres to work together. This ability to use one’s creativity throughout a lifetime and the impact of crystallized intelligence gained from the years of accumulated knowledge and life experiences, help to cultivate the aging, creative brain.