Greater MetroWest CARES (Committee Addressing Resources to Engage Seniors) is coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest and brings together leaders from Greater MetroWest agencies to promote independence and support vitality among older adults. Throughout the year, Greater MetroWest agencies have the opportunity to address critical eldercare issues in this column. This month’s article on the benefits seniors derive from the creative arts is presented by the Jewish Community Housing Corporation of Metropolitan New Jersey.
Staying active during our later years through some type of physical or mental exercise is so important for promoting a happier, healthier retirement. Creative expression is tops on the list.
Providing outlets for creativity is very beneficial at any age but this is especially important for older adults who may be facing feelings of loneliness or isolation, or are concerned about their physical health. Creative activities challenge the brain and boost cognitive function as well as promote a more positive outlook. For a population that is often facing feelings of loss or is overwhelmed by physical challenges, that positive outlook can go far in maintaining a healthier life. In short, creativity nourishes the mind and the spirit!
The National Council on Creative Aging (Creativeaging.org) cites research that has shown that “mental activity stimulated by arts activities can be especially beneficial to people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.” In a landmark study by Dr. Gene Cohen at George Washington University Medical Center, subjects who participated in facilitated creative activities reported a higher overall rating of physical health, fewer doctor visits, less medication use, fewer falls, better morale, fewer feelings of loneliness, and a trend toward increased activity than the control group.
At the Jewish Community Housing Corporation of Metropolitan New Jersey, we offer a range of creative arts programs for our senior residents that keep them engaged with each other and provide a new spark of creativity or the platform to share lifelong talents. Poetry workshops, floral arts, memoir writing, fine art…these are all ways to tap into creativity and keep minds sharper. These group activities also provide a social experience for participants; they show off their work, help each other with a project, and discover shared interests and hobbies. They also have something in common to talk about over meals, which helps foster further engagement with others.
At the JCHC, we see daily the benefits of offering creative activities and programs to our residents. Guest artists from ARTS By the People — an Essex County non-profit that brings arts programs to various groups, including seniors — run many of our popular creative arts programs. These programs have been big hits with residents and their families, who have attended resident art exhibits, poetry readings, musical and dramatic performances and more that were created by their older loved ones. Our activities directors also run programs that enable residents to explore their creativity or discover new talents that enrich their lives. We have residents well into their 90s who are painting and writing with wonderful, uplifting results.
The importance of maintaining an active mind through creativity has been promoted in recent years during Older Americans Month, observed annually in May. For example, two years ago the theme of “Homemade Happiness” encouraged creative expression as an avenue to a happier, more engaged lifestyle for older adults.
We encourage all seniors to follow whatever creative activities suit their fancy to promote brain health and a more positive outlook, nourish the soul, and enjoy a more engaged and enriched life.