Whether you are a long-time artist or find yourself sitting in front of an easel for the first time, pursuing a creative endeavor is good for all aspects of your health—particularly in the later years. Older adults who actively participate in creative pursuits have shown improved physical and mental health.
“I believe each individual has creative potential, but may not be in touch with that part of themselves,” says Margaret Carlock-Russo, art therapist at Splendido, an all-inclusive community for those 55 and better in Tucson. “Older adults have a wonderful opportunity to revisit that side—they have the time to try different artistic avenues, whether it’s visual arts, music, or even gardening.”
One important study compared the health of a group of older adults who participated in a professionally led chorale group to a control group of those who simply pursued regular day-to-day activities. The researchers found that those participants in the chorale group had fewer falls, fewer doctor visits, less reliance on medication, and less incidence of depression—all of which was still true a year after the study (and the chorale group) ended.
Creativity & Your Mood
Other research has shown that creative activities (and the pleasure they bring) can reduce artists’ stress and anxiety, increase self-confidence, and boost overall well-being.
“If you’re feeling stressed, you can turn to art to release that stress,” says Margaret. “A lot of people feel inhibited about taking up art for the first time, but it’s about the process, and the act of producing, the feel of flow.”
Another benefit to creative activities is the positive effect they have on the brain. Research has shown that sustained creative challenges can keep brains fit and stem the onset of dementia. Faced with ongoing creative challenges your brain will actually form new synapses, which are essentially pathways for new thoughts and ideas.
Creativity & Your
Another benefit for older adults who enjoy creative activities can be regular socializing. Staying social holds many benefits for emotional and cognitive help, and making connections with people with similar interests—such as classmates in an art program, a writing group, or a drama troupe—is an ideal way to create and maintain new social connections.
“A lot of artists work solitary—but when you’re learning or working in a group, a group energy happens,” Margaret points out. “There’s comfort and excitement when people are working on similar activities. A bond occurs.”
Residents and staff at Splendido had a unique opportunity to create something beautiful together when they participated in a collaborative project earlier this year. Margaret facilitated the Monarchs in Migration project, which encouraged all interested residents and staff to create their own beautiful mosaic monarch butterfly. The butterflies are being installed around the community. “Residents enjoyed expressing their creativity, building connections, and sharing experiences,” says Margaret, “and the finished pieces are adding new color to Splendido!”
How to Get Started
From calligraphy to collage-making, watercolor painting to weaving, there are all types of creative pursuits to try out. Don’t focus on your skill level or the quality of your complete work—have goals based on learning and exploring, finding pleasure and satisfaction in creating, and doing something uniquely positive for yourself.
How can you get started? Choose art forms you’ve either tried your hand at in earlier years—even as early as grammar school—or those you’ve always meant to try. If something doesn’t seize your interest right away, move on to something else.
The Tucson area offers a wealth of art and creativity-based classes and interest groups. Remember, to get maximum personal benefits out of getting creative, try a professionally led group.
“I’d suggest an adult ed class or a class through a community organization that is intro level with a finite number of sessions, so you can sample something without the pressure of continuing,” Margaret says. “Many community organizations offer daytime art classes like this for exactly this reason.”
She adds a point for beginning artists of all stripes: “Don’t worry about what it looks like—it’s about how it makes you feel. It’s about expressing your creative mind, learning something new, and working on something as part of a group.”