Do you remember taking art class or doing crafts in school? Whether it was gluing dry noodles to a frame, or painting watercolours, you probably thought it was purely for fun. Turns out, creating art offers many health benefits.
Some of those health benefits are increasing creativity, boosting self-esteem, cultivating emotional resilience, increasing brain connectivity and plasticity, enhancing social skills, reducing and resolve conflicts, and reducing stress.
Creating art offers these health benefits for people of all ages, but it offers a special opportunity for aging seniors to find control and purpose in their life again.
As some seniors age, they can develop chronic illnesses that can negatively affect every aspect of their life. In this post we’ll explain more about how using art as a form of therapy helps improve aging seniors’ mental health, cognitive abilities, and sensory-motor functions.
What Is Art Therapy?
There are many creative activities that can be incorporated into art therapy sessions including: painting, drawing, sketching, sculpting, knitting, weaving, writing, woodworking, and creating collages. Music and dancing therapy is separate from art therapy, but it is worth noting that those treatments can help seniors with mid- to late-stages of dementia recall memories and feelings from the past.
The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as:
An integrative mental health profession that combines knowledge and understanding of human development and psychological theories and techniques with visual arts and the creative process to provide a unique approach for helping clients improve psychological health, cognitive abilities, and sensory-motor functions. Art therapists use art media, and often the verbal processing of produced imagery, to help people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.
Art Therapy Improves Mental Health
Provides a Sense of Well-Being
Creating art provides a distraction and cognitive stimulation. The average person has 60,000 thoughts per day! However, when you become immersed in a creative activity, it provides similar benefits to that of meditation.
The meditative-like state focuses your mind and temporarily pushes aside all your worries. Time spent immersed in a creative activity during art therapy provides a sense of well-being and reduces an aging senior’s stress or anxiety.
Provides Control and Purpose
For aging seniors who are experiencing a lot of loss in their life, making art gives them a chance to create something new. Aging seniors can sometimes experiencing feelings of loss and regret over their life. However, by providing an experience such as art therapy, they can experience a fulfilling sense of control when they get to decide what art they will create, the colours they’ll use for it, and so much more.
Art therapy gives aging seniors something to look forward to, and it can even bring a sense of purpose back into their lives if they feel they have lost their purpose. An example of this is a story about John, a senior man who was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s disease. Before his diagnosis, John had enjoyed painting watercolours, but his verbal skills were affected by his dementia and he became more withdrawn. John also became depressed and gave up painting; he lost his sense of purpose and joy for life. John’s wife knew how much painting meant to him, so she set up Art therapy appointments to get him painting again.
It took a few sessions, and time to regulate his new medication, but during his sixth art therapy session, John stopped being reluctant and started to enjoy the creative process again. John said that artistic pursuits provide a good reason for him to get up each morning.
Aging seniors who struggle with mobility or health implications of other chronic illnesses can experience depression. Creating art can reduce symptoms of depression by providing cognitive and mood stimulation.
Creating art engages areas of the brain that deal with language and expression. Even aging seniors who struggle to verbally communicate can express their deepest thoughts through art; improving self-expression.
Art therapy allows aging seniors to interact in a social setting, which helps to decrease loneliness. The entire process of creating art and interacting during art therapy sessions improves self-esteem, which infuses positivity into seniors’ lives.
Art Therapy Improves Brain Function
Cognitive abilities are skills we need to carry out any task that can vary from simple to complex. These skills are used to help us think, read, learn, pay attention, remember, and reason.
Art therapy is one way to boost a senior’s cognitive functions. It helps to improve their ability to focus on a task for a sustained period of time, use logic and reasoning to solve problems, and improve working memory to complete a multi-step task without repeatedly asking for direction.
Art Therapy Improves Sensory-motor Function
We receive sensory messages from our seven senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, inner ear sense of balance, and spatial perception. Our brain then develops a response to the messages we receive and it forms a response. An example of this is hearing our name being called, first we hear it, then our brain registers that it is our name, and then our brain tells us to turn around to see who is calling for us.
As we age, our sensory-motor function naturally declines. Art therapy involves sight, hearing, and touch, but it can also involve smell and taste depending on the project. Encouraging seniors to use their sensory-motor functions in new ways with art projects allows them to maintain or improve these functions.
For aging seniors who are suffering from different chronic health conditions, art therapy provides relief while also improving overall health and well-being. Even if the only two benefits that art therapy provided were giving seniors control and purpose in their lives it would be well worth doing. On top of those two benefits, there can be many additional health benefits.
Reach out to your local art therapy association to learn more and implement art therapy into your senior loved one’s life.