Art can be an engaging and liberating experience for people of all ages, but it can have an especially significant impact on the lives of older adults. According to the Creativity and Aging Study, which monitors the effects that art has on older adults, those who participated in participatory arts programs experienced increases in mental health. At the same time, these individuals demonstrated a decreased need for doctor visits and medication, and even suffered from fewer falls.
These statistics are difficult to ignore. At Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, we believe that arts programs are integral to the care we provide, as they give residents opportunities for self-expression and the chance to continue to learn and practice new skills.
You can also help your older loved ones engage with the arts at home. Here are three ideas for art projects that you can do with your loved ones to help stimulate their senses.
Adult Coloring Books
While once thought of as primarily a childhood pastime, adult coloring books are all the rage these days, and they’re not just for older people. Book stores have large displays of coloring books on numerous themes, from animals to mathematical patterns. According to Color Meanings, coloring provides “the exact same benefits which meditation imparts on the brain” and activates “both parts of the cerebral hemisphere.” This is especially interesting as the cerebral hemisphere loses mass through aging and this loss is thought to be linked to Alzheimer’s disease. By spending a just a few hours a day coloring, older adults can stimulate both logic and creativity in their cerebral hemisphere, as well as include improvements in eyesight and hand-eye coordination.
Many coloring books, like Johanna Basford’s “Secret Garden” cater to adults and provide intricate patterns that can help boost creativity.
Older adults have also seen increased mental stimulation through clay therapy. Clay therapy involves either throwing pottery or simply freehand clay work. According to a study by Doric-Henry which measured progress across skill levels, those people who participated in clay therapy experienced lower levels of anxiety and depression, as well as higher self-esteem after going through several throwing pottery lessons.
Some forms of clay therapy (especially those involving a pottery wheel) require a little bit of a learning curve, so make sure to start off slowly. Sign up for a clay art class with your loved one and make it an experience that you can learn and grow in together. For a simpler take on clay art, buy some modeling clay and experiment with it at home.
Many music projects allow older adults the ability to take part in a mentally stimulating activity while expressing and enjoying themselves. Music therapy has been shown to help adults with memory loss, improving their ability to communicate with those around them. By singing along with loved ones or simply listening to music together, older adults may experience improvements in brain stimulation, and some even display an improved ability to recall long-term memories.
Arts Programs at CMSS
Our arts programming includes activities in each of these areas. There are sessions aimed toward new artists as well as those who have practiced the arts for many years, and programs for those with and without memory loss.
The international Music & Memory program, which is launching at CMSS this month, is designed for residents with memory loss. The program provides older adults with iPod shuffles and, through music, stimulates mental connections. We are also in the process of launching a visual art therapy program for those with memory loss.
CMSS has several relationships with Chicago arts organizations. For example, clay projects are led through Lillstreet Art Center’s ArtReach program. For those who are more interested in learning about art than producing their own, the Arts Insights talks from the Art Institute of Chicago offer a chance to learn more about a given artist or topic in art each month.
Art opens up many doors to better connect with your loved ones. For more information on the arts programming offered by CMSS, take a look at our blog post: Three Scientifically Proven Ways Music Improves The Lives of Older Adults.