Many of us have a hobby that falls under the umbrella of the arts—dance, instrumental music or singing, visual arts like painting and drawing and even sculpture, sewing and quilting, storytelling and poetry writing. As we age, the importance of holding fast to these vital parts of ourselves seems only to increase. While in any chapter of life the arts enrich our lives and give us invaluable means by which to express and process complex emotions, experiences, and ideas, now research is showing that art is particularly important for fostering “meaning, joy and a vibrant sense of well-being” in the lives of older people. For instance, one study sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts showed that “when older people become involved in culturally enriching programs, they experience a decline in depression, are less likely to fall and pay fewer visits to the doctor. In another study among people with Alzheimer’s disease, a sculpting program improved the participants’ mood and decreased their agitation even after the program ended.”
In the words of Janine Tursini, who directs the Maryland-based Arts for Aging Program, “The arts open people up, giving them new vehicles for self-expression, a chance to tell their stories” and thus her belief in the benefit of “programs [that] capitalize on assets that remain, not on what’s been lost.” Focusing on all we have still is an important mentality as we age and engaging in the arts supports this practice. Take for instance the benefits of movement in dance and performance which promote physical and emotional healing, strengthening the body’s strength, mobility and balance; or the social component of these programs, which bring seniors together in a positive setting that affirms healthy aging and robust quality of life. These aren’t activities or environments that demand any youth or age-specific performance; rather they simply invite participants to bring their talents, interests, and insight to an expressive pursuit. The benefits are tangible—such initiatives which engage the arts and bring the aging population together clinically correlate with lowered blood pressure, decreased stress hormone levels, and elevated levels of hormones like endorphins and adrenaline that resemble a runner’s high.
The arts belong in every person’s life in unique and individual ways, and beautifully, the ability and space to continually engage in expressive and emotive pursuits isn’t the property of one age or population. Art is for everyone, and for us as we age, art has only greater merit and potential, to help us stay connected, positive, expressive, and vibrant.