3 Science-Backed Benefits of Arts for the Elderly

June 14, 2023

As our aging population continues to grow in number, it’s more important than ever that we understand how to help senior citizens truly thrive. As we’ve seen with other age demographic groups, especially in the post-Covid world, the rise of depression, increased feelings of isolation and lack of connection with others contributes significantly to detrimental effects on both mental and physical health. For the elderly members of our communities, that impact can have heartbreaking consequences. At Housing with Hope, we believe that senior citizens’ golden years should shine brighter. For this reason, we employ research-supported programs to help achieve that mission.

According to a growing body of research, the arts can help older adults (and adults of all ages) experience a sense of control and diminish depression, anxiety, and worry. Engaging in the arts also fosters playfulness, complex thought, and self-esteem (Arts.Gov) – all things that increase quality of life.

Today, we’re sharing three research-backed benefits of art programs for older adults. And we’re letting you know how our team is putting the science into action to help our elderly New Jersey community members live life to the fullest.

Benefit 1: Arts Programs Help Slow Cognitive Decline for Elderly Adults

Memory loss as well as other thought and cognitive problems are well documented in scientific research on older adults. There is a great deal of literature each year focused solely on helping to reduce, slow, and perhaps even eliminate these issues.

So, naturally, art programs have been studied for their potential to positively impact cognitive function as the brain and body age.

And the research is overwhelmingly supportive of such efforts.

In fact, according to a study published in the research journal Neurology and referenced by Better Aging, cognitive decline can be addressed, at least in part, by participating in activities that foster artistic expression. In fact, artistic expression challenges our minds and creates or enhances neural pathways.

This cognitive restructuring is what addresses cognitive dysfunction and slows the cognitive decline we commonly associate with aging (Better Aging).

Benefit 2: Creative Expression Brings a Sense of Personal Fulfillment and Enhances Mental Health

As our elderly friends and neighbors continue to age, we often hear of older adults losing their sense of identity or struggling with issues like anxiety and depression.

But there is evidence that programs that foster creative expression can help to address these mental health challenges.

According to a meta-analytical study from the National Institute of Health, the mental health of elderly adults can be positively affected in a variety of ways when they engage in participatory artistic expression like art classes.

From an enhanced sense of one’s identity to a renewed sense of personal fulfillment, and even a reduction in depressive symptoms, programs like these promote healthy aging through enhanced mental health (National Institute of Health).

While this may be new information for many of us, early adopters and practitioners of art therapy have understood this since the early 1900s. So, though this may be news to some, decades of science back this research.

An additional benefit of art therapy includes relationship building. These programs have been shown to elevate mood and increase positive cognitive side effects for both those who are participants in the program as well as for volunteers, teachers, and activity leaders.

Benefit 3: Arts Programs Promote Social Engagement and Reduce Loneliness

Another challenge many elderly members of our community face is dealing with isolation and feelings of loneliness. We often recognize physical health issues like broken bones from falls or age-related impairments to vision or hearing. But it may be tougher to recognize when an elderly neighbor is lonely or disengaged from their surroundings. And if recognized, what are good pathways to help reduce those feelings?

It’s encouraging to learn that arts programs can actually help older adults combat loneliness and become more active within the communities they call home.

In a landmark study by the National Endowment for the Arts and George Washington University, participants in professionally led art classes experienced a variety of benefits to their health, mental health, and improved socialization.

Most notably, these participants got more involved in activities and actually increased their participation in community activities. Simply put: The study found that participation in arts programs had a markedly positive effect on the elderly participants’ independence and their interaction with others in the community (National Endowment for The Arts).

This Is the ‘Why’ behind Our Housing with Hope Golden Arts Program

At Housing with Hope, we’re passionate about bringing these amazing benefits to senior citizens in our New Jersey communities.

We are driven to help seniors thrive in their golden years. With that focus, we’ve developed an initiative designed to do just that: The Golden Arts Program.

Led by artist Danielle Corso of Art Chick Designs, LLC, The Golden Arts Program consists of a variety of art classes blending different artistic mediums. Our classes come right to seniors at their housing and community centers in Union County, New Jersey.

Our Golden Arts ‘students’ experience classes that dive into texture, color, and shape while teaching them a variety of approaches and techniques from drawing to mixed media art. Each class is designed to stimulate cognitive and fine motor skills.

These creative workshops help seniors develop motor skills, cognitive abilities, greater autonomy, and confidence while getting creative and having fun too!

Because self-expression, problem-solving, and creativity provide benefits to seniors that help with their sense of connection to the community as well as their mental acuity, we hope to continue these programs for years to come.

Get Involved!

Want to learn more about how Housing with Hope is bringing empowering arts experiences to the elderly in our communities? Discover all the details on our Golden Arts Program here.

And if you’d like to help us make more Golden Arts experiences possible, consider donating to Housing with Hope here.