Arts and the Elderly: An Important Connection for Healthy Aging

arts and the elderly

In 2006, Gene D. Cohen, MD, Ph.D. conducted a study, titled The Creativity and Aging Study, that measured “the impact of professionally conducted community-based cultural programs on the general health, mental health, and social activities of older persons, age 65 and older.” The conclusion was that community-based art programs, run by professional artists, had “powerful positive intervention effects” that included disease prevention, health promotion, increased independence, and reduced need for long-term care.

The study showed an important connection between arts and the elderly that prompted Maura O’Malley and Ed Friedman to co-found the nonprofit arts service organization Lifetime Arts. As reported by Linda Bernstein in her article “How Library Classes in the Arts Are Changing Aging,” O’Malley and Friedman found that programs for older adults were severely lacking. They decided to create skills-based arts programs open to adults 55 and up that would be taught by teaching artists in the one cultural center available in most U.S. communities—libraries.

The programs range from dance classes to crafts to theater, and each eight-session program concludes with an exhibit or performance. No experience or background in the art form is necessary to participate, and besides exercising mind and/or body, the participants form communities and usually come away with new local friendships. To make sure each community is provided with the type of programs area adults would be interested in, library patrons and other residents are given a survey.

So far, twenty nationally recognized “creative aging” programs are available in thirteen states. Here’s a look at two of them in New York.

Brooklyn, New York – Brooklyn Public Library, Sunset Park

The results of the survey given to patrons of the Brooklyn Public Library and residents of Sunset Park showed that adults were most interested in learning the tango. Taught by Walter Perez, an artist/instructor from Argentina, lessons begin with a warm-up and dance steps are practiced both with partners and in circles, so that participants who use walkers or canes can be supported by those on either side of them.

No one is left out, and Perez gives individual attention to each person, making everyone feel special. Besides fostering permanent friendships and a sense of community, seniors are exercising their muscles and minds by learning something new.

Montrose, New York – Hendrick Hudson Free Library

Performance art is the program of choice here. Expanding on a quarterly play reading program already in place, the Lifetime Arts program allows things to go to the next natural level—performing an actual play before an audience. Everyone who signed up got a performing or understudy role, and the plays chosen are geared toward the physical abilities of the participants.

Not only are the plays successful in drawing audiences, but the morale of participants increased and such strong bonds were formed that the actors began meeting for lunch on a regular basis, even after the show was over.

Socializing, learning, and staying active are extremely important parts of healthy aging. If your loved one needs assistance, the David York Agency can provide the help they need at home and the transportation required to get to community programs like these.

For more information about David York Agency’s qualified, compassionate home caregivers, contact us at 718.376.7755. A free phone consultation can help you decide what services might be best to provide you and your loved one with the assistance you need. If you’d like to hear more from us, please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn.