The Benefits of Art for the Elderly Population

Creativity is not only for the youth – the elderly population can benefit greatly from participating in creative activities such as the visual arts. According to a study published in Psychology Today (1) in 2009, the “aging brain is more distractible and somewhat more dis-inhibited than the younger brain.” That study showed that an elderly person was more likely be express more creative freedom than their younger counterpart. Like the creative mind, the aging mind shows that they are able to use their broadening focus to creatively problem solve – and that’s what creativity is all about. So shouldn’t there be more creative programs for the elderly population in our community? Absolutely! Art Nest Creative Studio (Art Nest) in collaboration with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) are helping to engage our elderly community in art sessions. Between two to three times per month, a team from Art Nest visits one of the residential homes in the various districts of Grand Cayman and on Cayman Brac to lead an art session with the residents there. Participants who are eligible (over 65 years old) but not in a residential home, are transported to the Art Nest studio space for the art session. These sessions provide great benefits for the participants. The residents gain a renewed sense of purpose and enjoy socializing with new people, among other physical benefits they receive from taking part in the art session. Read on as we further explore the benefits of art for our elderly community.

Art Provides a Sense of Purpose

Can you imagine spending your entire adult life working only to have when you’re at a retirement age and older, to have most of your activities taken away? This would undoubtedly affect your mental well-being and your sense of purpose. Well this is exactly what the DCFS is protecting its residents again with the collaboration with Art Nest. Residents can look forward to our session as one of their activities that they have throughout the week. This improved sense of purpose can then be translated in other aspects of their well-being and attitude going forward. This is true for even those residents who were not creatively inclined when they were younger. One resident that we spoke to said the sessions that Art Nest provided was the first time that she did art but how much she looked forward to the sessions each time.

Art Improves Mood

Don’t just take our word for it, studies have shown that art has a positive impact on a person’s mood and outlook and can help to alleviate the symptoms of depression and sadness. In the American Journal of Public Health (2), one extensive study looked at “how the arts might be used in a variety of ways to heal emotional injuries, increase understanding of oneself and others, develop a capacity for self-reflection, reduce symptoms, and alter behaviors and thinking patterns” and found positive results. Although the team at Art Nest does not provide therapy in the psychological sense, the mere act of assisting the residents through the carefully thought-out art sessions help the residents to explore their emotions in a safe, yet familiar environment. In one session, a resident painted a piece depicting the sky, the Brac and the sea. When asked what that painting signified for her, she happily recounted her years living on Cayman Brac and stories of her husband, whose culture was steeped in Cayman’s maritime heritage. It was evident from the smile on her face and the genuine joy in her voice that her mood had been lifted. And this all started from a simple painting!

Art Improves Range of Movement

The aging joints can easily become stuck in a certain range if not moved through that range regularly. The act of taking up a paint brush, mixing paint, reaching to apply paint on canvas (or desired paint surface) aids in improving and maintaining range of movement in the upper limbs. In general, as the residents look forward to the art sessions, they are encouraged to change positions (whether that be to sit more upright in their beds or to get dressed and move out of their rooms to the common area) to participate. This increase in movement can help with circulation throughout the body. It helps that the members of the art team have experience in dealing with the elderly, and do so with enthusiasm and care. For those residents who have impaired movements in their hands, they are assisted but also encouraged to be as independent as possible.