According to the 2023 International Creative Aging Summit, the purpose of creative aging is “to champion and adequately invest in older adults’ creativity and cultural agency.” Through organizations like Lifetime Arts, “Creative aging programming thrives in community settings where older adults gather around learning, social life, and enrichment. The Creative Aging Arts Education Model is proven to improve older adults’ health and wellness, bringing a revived sense of self and purpose to their lives.” Let’s take a closer look at healthy creative aging for seniors in Riverdale.
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. In other words, they are great ways to promote healthy aging.
What is Creative Aging?
Creative Aging is an initiative that has gained a lot of traction. Seniors involved in the creative arts see an improvement in many aspects of their lives. The fine arts and the performing arts have been shown to have positive effects on a senior’s quality of life. Many contend that they have physical benefits as well.
What is included in Creative Aging?
This initiative generally refers to the expressive arts. These arts include visual arts such as painting and multimedia; the performing arts such as music including both playing and singing, dance and movement, and the fine arts encompassing writing in all forms of fiction and non-fiction including poetry. Basically, all the hallmarks of culture come under this umbrella term.
What are the benefits of Creative Aging?
We know that art and music have healing benefits. The burgeoning disciplines of art therapy and music therapy attest to this. Arguably, there is good evidence to show both psychological and physical healing taking place. There seems to be a fostering of the mind-body connection. Moving beyond that, the question is whether actually making art in a serious and substantive way has benefits for the elderly and chronically ill. In fact, there have been studies to show that making art actually has an array of health benefits.
How Exactly Can Creative Aging Help?
Studies show that there are actually neurological benefits. Creating art has the capacity to produce new neural pathways and make dendrites thicker and stronger. Evidently, the brain is not inevitably doomed to decline and wither away. Fortunately, it actually can grow and become stronger. It seems to be a matter of “if you don’t use it, you lose it”.
The brain’s neuroplasticity can renew and reshape itself with the right stimuli. Research out of University of California San Francisco show that the creative abilities of the brain do not age in the same way as other cognitive functions. In fact, the aging brain allows the two hemispheres of the brain to act more in sync than before. Moreover, you can power pack that ability by layering in the knowledge and experience that you have gained over a lifetime for an explosively creative result.
When to Begin?
It seems that it is never too late to take up that hobby you have always wished you had time for. In fact, NOW might be just the right time! Francine Fodor Ph.D. interviewed over 20 late blooming artists who began their work after age 60. In her book, The Vintage Years, she found that far from being compromised cognitively, their focus was sharper than their younger counterparts. Moreover, they found the wisdom gained over a lifetime enhanced their art. Simultaneously, the art stimulated the brain. Their laser focus actually brought them to “an altered state of consciousness.”
Dr. Robert Butler Weighed In
World-renowned gerontologist Dr. Robert N. Butler felt that creative aging increases the purpose of life and adds years to a person’s lifetime.
Moreover, he was featured in the documentary I Remember Better When I Paint about the positive impact creative aging and their associated therapies can have for people with dementia and the diseases that cause it. The film shows how the brain can be helped through therapeutic art.
Specific Benefits Make $en$e
There is a real push to create long lasting and sustainable programs that improve the lives of one of our largest demographic groups – seniors. Many of these programs are quite cost-effective while being life changing. They can:
- Give meaning and purpose which in turn reduces anxiety and depression
- Reduce isolation and provide opportunities for socialization in a lighthearted setting
- Improve cognition by stimulating brain activity
- Reduce boredom and monotony for a retired demographic which also helps stave off depression
- Nurture a sense of spirituality and identity in a cohort that often suffers from debilitating chronic illnesses
What About Dementia?
There are ongoing studies to solidify the evidence that the arts stave off or improve dementia. Sadly, dementia is so heartbreaking to seniors and their loved ones. There is an aching need to find solutions. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), research to date has not provided a clear path, but they found benefits which ease the situation. Almost uniformly, creative aging has been found to improve mood and ease anxiety.
Interestingly, there is a Memory Ensemble which is a performing arts theatrical group set up to study this issue. They found that participating seniors had more positive engagement in terms of eye contact, smiling and reacting. At the same time, the negative engagement in terms of repetitive movements, avoidance, and trying to leave were reduced. On the whole, the mainly improvisational theater gives seniors with dementia space to be heard and create in nonthreatening ways.
A similar initiative looked at choir participants and was called Community of Voices. They measured the physical and psychosocial benefits of singing in the choir. What they found was participation increased the senior’s interest in life and reduced their feelings of loneliness.
Though the jury may be out on whether there are physical or psychological benefits to creative aging, it certainly is a healthy and worthwhile avenue to pursue.
Classes for Creative Aging
Seeing the important connection between arts and the elderly prompted Maura O’Malley and Ed Friedman to co-found the nonprofit arts service organization Lifetime Arts. They found that programs for older adults were severely lacking. In response, they decided to create skills-based arts programs open to adults 55 and up. Furthermore, these 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. 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… and New York is one of them.
New York Public Library
Here are some New York Public Libraries that have creative aging programs for those 50 and older. Click or call them for one that interests you and for the latest schedule. Here is a sampling of what was offered. For the full calendar, please see here.
Battery Park City Library – Art Workshops: Intro to Printmaking with the Guggenheim Museum.
Epiphany Library – Layers of the Self: Mixed Media workshops exploring identity in art with artist Whit Harris.
Kips Bay Library – Hip Hop Mixed Media Art Workshop: Living History – Inspired Posters and Collaging with Poster House.
Morrisania Library – Hip Hop Comics Workshop: Taught by award winning Artist, Ivan Velez Jr. teaching the art at the intersection of Hip Hop and Comic Book history.
Pelham Parkway-Van Nest Library – Artist Bookmaking Workshops with teaching artist Georgina Arroyo.
Richmondtown Library – Award Winning Artist, Ivan Velez Jr. teaching 2D artmaking techniques.
Roosevelt Island Library – Craft Workshops: Upcycled Art- Exploring Paper with Gabrielle Redmond.
Stapleton Library – Watercolor Workshops: Intro to Spring with Artist Diane Matyas. Starting 5/6.
Wakefield Library – The fundamentals of Flamenco and an original group composition with New York City Center.
Westchester Square Library – Craft Workshops: Patchwork Textile Art – Jogakbo.
West Farms Library – Writing Workshops: Poetry and Prose with Advocate Of Wordz.
Woodlawn Heights – Easy Fiber Arts Workshops with Jessica Lagunas.
Brooklyn Public Library
The Brooklyn Public Library also has an array of classes. Here is a quick look at some of their creative aging programming:
Storytelling Workshop for Polish Seniors in Greenpoint
Bringing Acrylics to Life in Mill Basin
Latin Dance Pa’ Gozar in Sunset Park
Mask and Collage, I Have a Voice: Personal Narrative Writing Workshop, Acrylics for All with Leonid Filitsyan, Drawing & Watercolor with Nancy Carey, Latin Social Dance & Exercise, Crochet Jewelry & Fabric Designs, Beautifully Made Jewelry, Charcoal Made, Bead Weaving, Little Artworks in Ink, and Still Life Drawing, Painting & Composition.
Museums, Colleges & Universities
Museums and local colleges are also fertile ground for continuing education classes. You would be surprised how varied and far-reaching their course offerings are. Furthermore, most universities have extension universities that offer online classes taught by many of the same professors that teach in-person and on campus. These universities even include the finest institutions such as Harvard and Yale.
Online Classes Abound
Many seniors have opted to take classes in the comfort and privacy of their homes. They may be homebound or choose this option only when the weather is bad.
In any case, there are many free online classes to take. A simple search of free online art classes or free senior classes in your area will yield a plethora of options. You should also check out Senior Planet by the AARP for classes for creative classes online.
In conclusion, 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.
David York Agency Homecare Can Help Seniors in Riverdale
At David York Agency, we understand the many challenges and risks faced by the aging and elderly and are dedicated to providing care to support them through all of those ups and down. At David York Home Healthcare Agency, extraordinary service is what sets us apart from other companies in Riverdale that provide in-home healthcare services.
DYA we could provide direction as to how to manage the total care of your senior loved one. Whatever your care needs, we are there for you, always striving to exceed your expectations. For more information about David York Agency’s qualified, compassionate caregivers, contact us at (718) 376-7755. A free phone consultation can help you determine what services would meet your needs. We aim to provide you and your loved one with the assistance they need. If you’d like to hear more from us, please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.