Definitive Proof that Art Therapy Benefits Seniors

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art therapy benefits

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.

Final Words

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?

38 COMMENTS

  1. Producing art versus analysing art, an interesting comparison group. I think art is a wonderful thing for many people, and the benefits go beyond emotional to the realm of physical and overall wellbeing, too. Great post! x

    • Creative writing is good for the brain at any age though – it keeps us alert and the mind active 🙂 But I know what you mean about it being solitary. Unless they give feedback to one another in writing groups or something along those lines.

  2. I love this article Christy! As a psychotherapist, I taught art therapy twice a week for four years at a partial hospitalization program for seniors. I saw first hand the positive healing effects of reducing anxiety, depression and distracting from chronic pain. Now, I teach seniors creative writing at a local college and senior center. I love the work I do helping others express their inner most thoughts and feelings.

  3. Possibly a pet. Not just a visiting therapy pet, but a pet they are always responsible for taking care of, and can develop a relationship with. Birds, cats, small dogs, an iguana are all good.

  4. As a Registered Nurse of 28 years much of my career was spent in long term living facilities for the elderly. The benefits on the mental health and well being of the individuals who participated in art therapies were significantly evident in comparison to those who chose not to participate. Those who did participate and benefit from the socialization of the group therapy environment were definitely both physically and mentally healthier than those who chose not and who spent more time isolated from their peers. Great post. Completely agree!

  5. What a wonderful post. I just read an article on CNN yesterday that talked about an 11-year-old girl who created a “three wishes” campaign for residents in the Arkansas nursing home where her mom is a nurse. It really is the little things for these residents – Pets, baby dolls, snacks, clothing that fits. I love the idea of art therapy, too. Art supplies can go a long way!

  6. I love this so much!!! I start work in a Dementia ward next week , and i know something like art therapy would be beneficial for a myriad of reasons! I don’t know if it strikes you, I write about animal therapy, I’m totally new to wordpress , but loved this such compassion 🙂

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