A study recently published in the Baltimore Sun, suggests that creative expression helps seniors age gracefully. The study took place over 5 years and was conducted by psychiatrist Dr. Gene Cohen, director of George Washington University’s Center on Aging, Health and the Humanities.
Over 100 seniors from Washington DC, Brooklyn, and San Francisco participated in the study. The participants came from diverse ethnic backgrounds and ranged in age from 65 all the way to 103. They were dived into two groups—the control group and an “intervention group.”
Those in the intervention group participated in weekly arts programs, such as singing in choruses, while the control group did not. The executive summary of the study states that the results "point to powerful intervention effects of these community-based art programs run by professional artists. They point to true health promotion and disease prevention effects [and] a positive impact on maintaining independence and on reducing dependency."
I don’t doubt that the intervention group faired better than the control group. However, I’m not sure creativity has anything to do with this. Going to arts programs means staying physically active, and numerous studies have previously shown that staying active has huge health benefits for the elderly (not to mention the young). Plus, the art programs were done as a group, not individually. Numerous studies have also shown that keeping socially active has huge health benefits. To more accurately determine whether being creative helps seniors age gracefully, a study/survey should look at non-physical, non-group creative expressions, such as writing or painting.
But even though I feel the results of the study most likely show a correlation and not causation, an important lesson can still be learned—arts programs are a great activity to help seniors stay healthy and active!