Health Benefits of the Arts for Seniors

Among the many health benefits and outcomes of art therapies for seniors are slowing down of aging on the brain, better memory recall, greater cognitive function, happier in their lives and less depression or loneliness, and higher self-esteem.

Dance:

Psychophysiological Effects of Dance Movement Therapy and Physical Exercise on Older Adults with Mild Dementia

A 2020 study examined the psychophysiological effects of dance movement therapy (DMT) and physical exercise for older adults with dementia. The DMT group showed significant decreases in depression, loneliness and negative mood, and improved daily functioning.

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Dance Training is Superior to Repetitive Physical Exercise in Inducing Brain Plasticity

In a 2018 study, researchers determined that dancing compared to conventional fitness activity led to larger volume increases in more brain areas. The results show a challenging dance program is an effective measure to counteract detrimental effects of aging on the brain.

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Effects of Cognitive Leisure Activity on Cognition in Mild Cognitive Impairment

Researchers from the National Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology in Japan in a 2017 trial found that after a 40-week program using dance movement, older adults with mild cognitive impairment syndrome (MCI) showed improvements in memory recall and general cognitive function compared with those in the control group.

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Evolution of Neuroplasticity in Response to Physical Activity in Old Age

Researchers from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases conducted a study in 2017 that suggested that participating in a long-term dance program that requires constant cognitive and motor learning is superior to engaging in repetitive physical exercises in inducing neuroplasticity in the brains of seniors. Therefore, dance is highly promising in its potential to counteract age-related gray matter decline.

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Dancing in Time: Feasibility and Acceptability of a Contemporary Dance Programme to Modify Risk Factors for Falling in Community Dwelling Older Adults

Researchers at the University of Leeds conducted a study in 2017 to investigate the feasibility and impact of an 8-week contemporary dance programme on modifiable physical (physical activity status, mobility, sedentary behaviour patterns) and psychosocial (depressive state, fear of falling) risk factors for falls. Results showed significant increases in moderate and vigorous physical activity, with a significant decrease in sitting time, statistically significant decreases in the mean Geriatric Depression Scale and fear of falling scores were noted, and the time taken to complete the “timed up and go” test decreased significantly. They concluded that contemporary dance has the potential to positively affect the physical activity, sitting behaviours, falls related efficacy, mobility and incidence of depression in older females which could reduce their incidence of falls.

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Music/Singing:

Can Music Therapy Improve the Quality of Life of Institutionalized Elderly People?

In 2022, researchers in Spain finalized a study to verify the efficiency of a music therapy program with institutionalized elderly participants to avoid depressive symptoms and improve social interaction and creativity. Their results showed that music therapy has the potential to improve health and quality of life in the elderly and foster the amelioration of various chronic illnesses, such as depression.

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Beneficial Effects of Choir Singing on Cognition and Well-Being of Older Adults: Evidence from a Cross-Sectional Study

In a 2021 study conducted by the Cognitive Research Unit at the University of Helsinki, Finland, researchers concluded that choir singers performed better than the control group on the verbal flexibility domain of executive function. In questionnaires, high activity choir singers showed better social integration and better general health than the control group and low activity choir singers. 

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A Community Choir Intervention to Promote Well-Being Among Diverse Older Adults: Results from the Community of Voices Trial

Dr. Julene Johnson, University of California’s San Francisco School of Nursing conducted the largest randomized clinical trial in 2020 to test the importance of participating in a community choir on the health and well-being of nearly 400 culturally diverse adults age 60 and older from 12 senior centers. Within six months she found that participation in the choir reduced feelings of loneliness and increased interest in life. Cognitive improvements included better verbal memory, attention and executive function. Unanticipated benefits included improved self-esteem, finding a place in society and a sense of cultural identity and appreciation. The increased awareness and strength of voice encompassed both a physical effect (i.e., improved breath) and psychological effects (i.e., assertiveness and finding one’s voice).

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Community-Dwelling People Living with Dementia and Their Family Caregivers Experience Enhanced Relationships and Feelings of Well-Being Following Therapeutic Group Singing

Faculty at the Fine Arts and Music Department at the University of Melbourne (Drs. Imogen Clark, Jeanette Tamplin and Felicity Baker) conducted a study in 2018 which found that therapeutic group singing (TGS) enhanced relationship between people living with dementia (PwD) and their family caregivers (FCG) and led to personal feelings of wellbeing for both PwD and FCG. Both described personal feelings of acceptance, improved social confidence, mood and purpose. Individualized singing intervention in the family home have also led to reduced physical signs of depression and improved mood, orientation and episodic memory in PwD and improved short-term memory, working memory and wellbeing in FCG compared with usual care.

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Individualized Music Program is Associated with Improved Outcomes for U.S. Nursing Home Residents with Dementia

The Center for Gerontology & Healthcare Research at Brown University School of Public Health conducted a study in 2017 to address whether music helped the behavioral and psychological symptoms associated with dementia (BPSD). They found that an individualized music program is associated with reductions in antipsychotic medication use, anxiolytic medication use and BPSD symptoms among long-stay nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

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Theater:

Longitudinal Associations Between Short-Term, Repeated, and Sustained Arts Engagement and Well-Being Outcomes in Older Adults

A 2020 study done by researchers in the United Kingdom showed that repeated engagement with theater/concerts/opera and museums/galleries/exhibitions was associated with enhanced eudaimonic (i.e., happiness) well-being and sustained engagement with these activities were associated with greater well-being. Long-term frequent engagement with certain arts activities is associated with higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction, self-realization and control/autonomy in older adults. These findings suggest that policies that facilitate older adults’ access to arts venues and activities, and support their continued engagement with them, may help to promote happy, fulfilling lives of an increasing segment of the population.

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Playback Theatre in Adult Day Centers: A Creative Group Intervention for Community Dwelling Older Adults

Researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel conducted a study in 2020 using theatre and drama-based interventions at adult day centers to improve the residents’ well-being and health. The results indicated the potential to bring about a personal transformation and expand it to enable a person’s social engagement in the community. The findings imply the potential benefits of using playback theatre groups to supplement the routine care provided in these centers.

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Participation in Life-Review Playback Theater Enhances Mental Health of Community Dwelling Older Adults

In 2020, researchers conducted a study to examine an integrative intervention of older adults which included participation in playback theater in accordance with the life-review method. The results validated the intervention’s effectiveness for improving positive mental health indices: self-acceptance, personal growth, relationships with others, satisfaction with relationships, current well-being, positive affect, meaning in life, satisfaction with life, and self-esteem, as well as depressive symptoms.

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Scripted-IMPROV: Interactive Improvisational Drama with Persons with Dementia

Researchers in 2018 founded in a study involving improvised drama performances specifically designed for persons with dementia (PWD) that positive forms of engagement increased while negative forms of engagement decreased with the drama intervention. These results suggest that quality of life was higher during the intervention and that this therapy could be a high-quality intervention for PWD.

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Development and Pilot Randomized Control Trial of a Drama Program to Enhance Well-Being Among Older Adults

In 2017, researchers from the University of California tested the feasibility, tolerability and efficacy of a theatre-based program for improving empathy and well-being among older adults. They found the adults receiving the drama therapy had higher self-ratings of positive change in self-esteem, confidence and happiness post-treatment.

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Visual Arts:

Benefits of a 3-Month Cycle of Weekly Virtual Museum Tours in Community Dwelling Older Adults

Researchers in 2022 conducted a study to examine whether a 3-month cycle of weekly virtual tours of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts may have improved feelings of social inclusion, well-being and quality of life, and reduced physical frailty in older adults living within the community of Montreal. They found that the intervention group showed significant improvements in their social isolation, well-being and quality of life and frailty scores when compared to the control group, the highest benefits being observed with frailty.

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Improving the Lives of Older Adults Through Community Building with Art Therapy

A qualitative research study done in 2019 investigated whether art therapy was effective in providing social benefits for older adults living in a nursing home setting, including increased self-esteem, quality of life, interaction with and support from other residents, the discovery of shared interests and stimulation in the form of a group activity. The study showed that overall participating in art interventions assisted participants in sharing information and socializing within the group sessions.

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Art Therapy as an Adjuvant Treatment in Depression in Elderly Women

In 2018, researchers in Brazil conducted a study to evaluate if art therapy was beneficial as an adjuvant treatment for depression in the elderly. The results revealed that women receiving the art therapy treatment had significant improvements in Geriatric Depression Scale and Beck Anxiety Inventory scores as compared to the control group. They concluded that art therapy as an adjunctive treatment for depression in elderly women can improve depressive and anxiety symptoms.

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Can Musical or Painting Interventions Improve Chronic Pain, Mood, Quality of Life and Cognition in Patients with Mild Alzheimer’s Disease

In a 2017 study, researchers from the Memory Clinic and Research Center of Saint Etienne Neurology Unit, University Hospital of Saint Etienne, France found that both singing and painting interventions led to significant pain reduction, reduced anxiety, and improved digit span in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Painting also reduced depression over time.

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Sharpen Your Pencils: Preliminary Evidence that Adult Coloring Reduces Depressive Symptoms and Anxiety

Researchers in New Zealand tested the effects of adult coloring in a 2017 study. They found that coloring participants showed significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms and anxiety. They concluded that daily coloring can improve some negative psychological outcomes and that it may provide an effective, inexpensive and highly accessible self-help tool for nonclinical samples.

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