In recent years, retirement communities, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals and places of worship across the country have begun to offer art therapy for seniors. If you’re in that age bracket and you’re reading this, though, you might be thinking that the last thing you need right now is another kind of therapy. What can art offer you that speech therapy, OT and PT can’t?
Quite a bit, it turns out.
Art Therapy Can Help You:
Really. It’s true. According to Peishan Yang of National Taiwan University, seniors who participated in arts therapies had higher morale and experienced lower levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness. “When people are engaged and supported, they…sleep better, are less anxious, less depressed,” Ruth Drew, the Alzheimer Association’s director of family and information services, says. “The experience carries over to the rest of the day.” Not to mention all those endorphins and dopamine bursts you experience when you’ve created something with your own hands.
Our brains work in a similar way to all our muscles. The more you work a muscle, the better it functions. And if you work a muscle in different ways, that muscle is able to do more.
The brain is no different. When you’re participating in a creative activity like art, your brain has to think creatively. Over time, your creative thinking gets a boost. Trying new art forms means learning new skills, which stimulates your brain and keeps it in its top shape. In one study, those who participated in art therapy for seniors showed improved cognitive functioning after just three months. Not bad.
Art in all its forms involves concentrating your hands on performing individual, purposeful movements. Doing that on a regular basis can improve your ability to perform other tasks. When you paint, sketch, color, draw or sculpt, you increase your blood flow, which can help reduce inflammation and manage chronic pain. Coordination improves, too. Studies have shown that, among other benefits, people who participated in art therapy for seniors fell less frequently than their peers who didn’t.
Like music, art stimulates the mind in a way that other activities don’t. Many seniors report that art therapy helped them recall forgotten memories and details. That improvement spilled over to real life, long after the therapy session was over.
Engaging in art provides a vehicle for self-expression in a group setting, which means sharing and creating new connections with people. If you have friends or relatives who are no longer verbal, art therapy can give them a way to express their feelings, wants, desires and experiences.
And it’s never too late.
If you haven’t tried art therapy for seniors yet, remember: it’s never too late! Grandma Moses started painting when she was 76; while Grandma Layton began drawing at 68, continued for almost 30 years and said it helped cure her 35-year old depression. Lester Potts began doing watercolor after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and his works received international acclaim.
Even if you never become famous like they did, though, you can still become a happier, calmer, more capable you.
Have you had positive experiences with art or art therapy? Please let us know in the comments below!