Why Creativity Matters

The connection between engagement in creative, artistic activity and physical as well as mental and emotional health is not often recognized.


Recent studies, however, suggest that involvement in the arts, even listening to music or viewing paintings, supports physical, mental and emotional well-being and eases some symptoms of illness, including dementia.


In 2006, American artists, policymakers and aging experts held the first-ever national conference on the arts and aging. The movement was bolstered by preliminary findings from a federally funded Creativity and Aging Study led by psychiatrist Gene Cohen, director of George Washington University's Center on Aging, Health & Humanities.


The Washington Post reported in 2008 that a study of 300 people, age 65 to 103, revealed that those involved in arts programs, including singing, creative writing, poetry, painting and jewellery making, reported “better overall physical health and fewer doctor visits” than seniors who were not engaged in this manner. The arts group seniors also reported fewer falls and better scores on depression and loneliness scales.


“Medication use increased with age in both groups, but the arts group went from using an average 6.1 drugs to seven drugs, while the control group went from using 5.7 drugs to 8.3. Cohen noted that arts programs also had a positive impact on maintaining elders' independence and appeared to reduce ‘risk factors that drive the need for long-term care’.


“Neuroscientists unaffiliated with Cohen's study are exploring evidence that challenging mental activity such as artistic expression stimulates the growth of new brain cells in the cerebral cortex. Even as we age, the creation of these new neuron networks continues.


“Cohen theorizes that arts participants have a heightened sense of control and social engagement, both of which may boost the immune system.”


In other studies, artists older than 65 were found to have high levels of personal growth, autonomy and independence; elders who took part in four weeks of theatre training showed cognitive and psychological gains when compared with a control group; and people with dementia demonstrated significantly more engagement, pleasure, self-esteem and normalcy while participating in a painting program than they did during more-traditional adult day care activities.



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