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Hope and Healing: Why Art Should Be Part of Every Senior’s Care Plan

Mary Beth Flynn | 23 March, 2021

            Hope and Healing: Why Art Should Be Part of Every Senior’s Care Plan

As we grow older, aches and pains start infiltrating our daily lives. While most seniors head to the medicine cabinet to find relief, what if they detoured to an art class instead?

According to researchers, when seniors pick up a paintbrush, slip on some tap shoes or sing their hearts out, the “happy” hormones the body releases in response help ease the symptoms of anxiety and stress, and in some cases, reduce a senior’s dependence on the medications that treat them. With every year that passes, the need to participate in arts activities becomes even more critical to fight off cognitive decline, depression and other health issues.

Through Artfully Aging’s watercolor programs, activity directors at senior living facilities can lead therapeutic art programs that meet every resident where they are. Even if a senior has never painted or is nervous about their art skills, Artfully Aging can help them create works of art that boost their self-esteem and confidence.

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Why the medical field has embraced therapeutic art

In 2018, doctors from the Montreal-based medical association Médecins francophones du Canada began “prescribing” visits to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to patients with certain conditions. According to the MdFC vice president, “What is most important is to have this experience which is to help them escape from their own pain.”

But the connection between art and healing isn’t a new phenomenon. French neuroscientist Pierre Lemarquis wrote that the beneficial effects of viewing art go back to Classical antiquity when Aristotle described the catharsis theater-goers experienced when watching a stage production. Even just sitting back and passively viewing art stimulates the neurotransmitters that improve our overall happiness and well-being.

When a senior suffering from a chronic condition or dementia takes the next step and creates works of their own, the impact on their mental health skyrockets – which in turn positively affects their physical health. A study by Dr. Gene Cohen found that art provides seniors with a greater sense of control and empowerment, promotes socialization to ease loneliness and isolation, improves brain plasticity, and strengthens their immune system.

Creating art also ignites the brain’s pleasure and reward system, which in turn tells the body to release extra levels of hormones like dopamine to boost memory and learning, serotonin to stabilize a senior’s moods, and endorphins to manage pain.

Helping your clients create art and improve their well-being

Activity directors at independent living facilities, skilled nursing centers, and assisted living and memory care centers can play a key role in supporting residents’ overall health. While art can’t cure a patient of diabetes or reverse the symptoms of dementia, it can help slow the progression of certain conditions and help seniors better manage their symptoms.

For residents, the ability to focus on the project at hand and feel a sense of pride in the finished project not only eases the side effects of aging in the moment, but for days and even weeks to come. By incorporating a consistent art program like Artfully Aging’s watercolor programs into your regular schedule, you can help ensure the benefits your residents experience extend beyond the activity room, helping them lead happier, healthier lives. Each themed project is ideal for seniors of every ability and skill level, and includes preprinted watercolor sheets as well as an artist-led training video.

To view our new seasonal lineup, please visit artfullyaging.com/collections/projects.