If an older loved one is looking for ways to improve health and happiness, art therapy is might be the solution. There are many types of creative art, from painting to sculpting, pottery making, and drawing. Whichever form it takes, art therapy benefits seniors potentially in various physical and psychological ways.
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by TrustedCare. I have been compensated for writing it, but rest assured all opinions are mine.
What is Art Therapy?
As per the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is “…an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”
I like this inclusive definition. To me, art therapy includes both creating art and appreciating it. So, even if a retiree takes a visit to an art gallery, for example, and comes away from that outing with a sense of calmness or has learned about a painter, there’s value in this experience. It could have a positive emotional or psychological experience. Throughout this post, by the way, when I say “art” I’m referring to visual art. I understand that music and dance are examples of other types.
But do not mistake me as saying that art is the be all and end all of mental health solutions. Instead, it can be part of an approach to help individuals, such as seniors, to enjoy a better quality of life. What that looks like varies from person to person, depending on what areas of life are the focus for improvement (mental or physical), a person’s needs, and their preferences.
Art Therapy and the Brain: What is the Connection?
Research reveals that visual art has a powerful connection with the mind. For example, a recent study focused on changes in the brain’s default mode network (DMN) of 28 post-retirement adults before and after they participated in two art interventions. Both of the interventions lasted ten weeks. One group produced art in classes, while the other group mentally analyzed artwork at a museum.
Using specialized equipment, the researchers found that the art production group had more spatial improvement within the brain than the museum group. That results indicated that creating visual art production can have neural effects, as well as the overall resiliency of the adult mind.
How Art Therapy Benefits Seniors
Furthermore, art can produce new pathways within the brain, thereby strengthening cognitive abilities. For example, a person might develop more efficient mental processing.
So, while many older adults have known for years that art therapy can have a wide range of benefits, researchers are now finding support for it too. Many studies indicate that art can reduce sadness and anxiety that often accompanies chronic illnesses. Furthermore, the creative process of making art can help seniors embrace their uniqueness and realize what they’re capable of producing, even in the later years of life if they have Alzheimer’s.
Additional art therapy benefits for seniors are:
- Better motor skills
- Feeling a sense of control
- Social interaction, which…
- Counteracts feelings of loneliness
- Form new friendships
- Stimulates the senses
- Prevents boredom
- Lower stress levels
- Triggers forgotten memories
When kept busy with purposeless creating artwork with their hands, an example of relaxation therapy, it makes sense that an older person (or any age!) could have less discomfort. Rather than stressing about age-related changes, for instance, they can enjoy a fun activity. This therapy can be in conjunction with doctor-recommended exercise and prescribed medicine.
Also, I like the idea of someone using art as a way to express themselves to family and friends, particularly if they have memory loss or dementia.
And they can perhaps even get back in touch with their spirit after a time of grief, for example. Self-improvement can happen at any age. Who knows, they might be creative and not even know it… yet!
Programs at Senior Care Homes
Next comes the question of how exactly to do art therapy to achieve benefits? For those who are elderly and live independently at home still, they can get an art therapist in for weekly sessions. Another alternative is…
But residential, long-term care can be a better option for an older person who is unable to live independently any longer, whether it be for physical or mental reasons. When the time arises to put your parent or another loved one into a senior care home, finding one near you in the UK is easier with the TrustedCare directory.
For someone in a senior care facility, meanwhile, art therapy can be a program that brings joy to its residents. A professional art therapist can be part of the staff or outsourced by the organization.
The effectiveness of art-related initiatives at senior care homes has the support of research. A pottery class, for example, can improve self-esteem and lower depression and anxiety in elderly nursing home residents, according to a study in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association.
Lastly, art therapy can gently improve finger dexterity. For example, researchers found that manipulating clay improves hand dexterity in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Activities include squeezing and rolling the clay. Experiencing fewer uncomfortable effects enables an older person to have a better quality of life.
In senior care homes, activity centers, and elsewhere, older adults can experience benefits both creating and viewing art. Art therapy classes can help keep aging minds active, encourage self-esteem and self-reliance, as well as providing social time.
Besides art therapy, what are some other ways to help seniors be happy?