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In the Zone: Helping Seniors Find Their Creative Flow and Boost Their Happiness

Mary Beth Flynn | 20 October, 2021

            In the Zone: Helping Seniors Find Their Creative Flow and Boost Their Happiness

In every Artfully Aging watercolor art session, there’s a moment when the instructor knows their residents or clients have found their flow. Their conversations quiet, their bodies relax, and their faces take on an expression of both contentment and concentration. As they paint, each artist’s creativity freely flows, as if their hand has a mind all its own.

But what is this “flow” exactly? As Drexel University professor and art therapy researcher Girija Kaimal explained to NPR, "It's that sense of losing yourself, losing all awareness. You're so in the moment and fully present that you forget all sense of time and space.”

When we participate in a creative activity we love, whether that’s art, music, dance, or any other hobby, the blood flow to the prefrontal cortex – our brain’s reward center – increases dramatically, triggering feelings of relaxation and heightening our focus. While our stress melts away in the moment, the positive impact of flow on our mental health can last long after the activity is over. According to researchers, people who get in the zone on a regular basis report lower overall levels of depression and anxiety.

For seniors, especially those living with dementia, finding flow through art can ease the daily anxiety, paranoia and memory loss they experience. When the reward pathway in the brain is switched on, they become fully immersed in the activity in front of them rather than the worries that consume them. In addition, creative flow:

  • Enhances a senior’s feelings of accomplishment, control and autonomy, which are critical for residents living in assisted living or memory care communities
  • Promotes mental calmness, helping older adults with dementia or memory loss regulate their emotions and increase their overall happiness
  • Allows them to express themselves in new ways when their verbal abilities are limited

For more than a decade, the artists at Artfully Aging have witnessed first-hand the benefits of flow on the seniors who have participated in our watercolor sessions. To assist caregivers and activity staff in helping seniors get “in the zone” when leading their own Artfully Aging projects, we’ve created a series of “Train the Trainer” videos that will help you guide those you serve into a blissful, relaxed state from the moment they pick up their paintbrush. To learn more, please visit artfullyaging.com/pages/benefits.