What is it about the humanities that draws us all – young, old and in-between? From the time we are very tiny to advanced age, there is a drive in each human to create, to participate and enjoy the arts. Why is this, and why does it have such amazing benefits for our quality of life?
“The humanities play a vital role throughout our lives in helping us be well-rounded individuals,” says Michael Rambarose, President and CEO of Whitney Center, a Life Care Community in Hamden, CT. “They help us broaden our intellect, teach us to communicate, and improve our quality of life in so many ways. At Whitney Center, the connection to the humanities, arts and cross-cultural education is part of our community’s DNA, which is why we take pride in hosting lectures, performances and artwork at our Cultural Arts Center. We believe that striving for excellence and remaining engaged builds a more meaningful life, which is why we include cultural opportunities and events in the host of programs available to our residents.”
The Evidence for Humanities as Part of Senior Programming
What does art have to do with aging well? According to Barbara Bagan, PhD, ATR-BC, Professor of Expressive Arts Therapy at Ottawa University in Phoenix, AZ:
“Throughout history, artists have known that art benefits for both the creator and viewer. Current studies in the fields of art therapy, music therapy and other creative modalities confirm that art can affect individuals in positive ways by inducing both psychological and physiological healing. We know that, in general, exercising our creative selves enhances quality of life and nurtures overall well-being. We all are creative – not just a select few.”
There are plenty of anecdotal stories that highlight the benefits of older adults engaging in the arts. But what about actual scientific evidence? While there hasn’t been an inordinate amount of research into the topic, there have been some studies done showing that, yes, the arts are good for us no matter how old we are.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Aging Studies identified six features of healthy, successful aging:
- Interactions with others
- A sense of purpose
- Personal growth
Activities that involve the humanities and the arts – like theatre, writing, painting and more –encourage a number of these features.
Next Avenue, a research-focused art blog, conducted a study of literature and studies, and discovered that “the most compelling evidence of the value of the arts revolves around improving the lives of older adults.” In other words, there is substantial evidence that participatory arts like writing, drawing, painting and the like can help maintain the health and quality of life of seniors.
The study goes on to state: “While extending the so-called “golden years” can be a blessing, challenges include deteriorating health, social isolation, loss of loved ones and life transitions. Fortunately, research shows that arts-related interventions can help (in some cases, more so than traditional Western medicine). In particular, there is substantial causal evidence that participatory arts activities help to maintain the health and quality of life of older adults.”
Benefits of the Humanities on Healthy Aging
Here are just some of the findings and evidence that supports the theory that the humanities play an important part in maintaining a high quality of life as we age:
- Singing can improve mental health and improve self-esteem
- Dancing helps boost motor skills and cognition
- Playing a musical instrument has many positive effects, including reducing the risk of dementia
- The visual arts (painting, drawing, sculpting) increase one’s social engagement, self-esteem and psychological health
- Practicing in some form of art helps individuals relax and gain a sense of control
- Individuals who participate in the arts and humanities show reduced signs of depression and anxiety, improved cognition, increased self-esteem and reduced boredom
- Seniors who participate in the arts report a stronger sense of identity
“When older adults pursue activities that are based in meaning, purpose, and honesty, they can attain … wisdom and integrity,” writes Dr. Bagan. “Therapeutic art experiences can supply meaning and purpose to the lives of older adults in supportive, non-threatening ways.”
She reports that research into neurological pathways show that making art can produce new neural pathways and stronger connections, improving cognitive functions. Even viewing art causes the brain to reshape, restructure and adapt, thus expanding an individual’s potential to increase cognition and brain function.
According to Bruce Miller, MD, a behavioral neurologist at University of California, San Francisco, creative abilities don’t have to deteriorate as our brains age. Far from it, in fact. The aging brain responds excellently to art and the humanities and allows the entire brain to function in tandem. Creativity is a skill that is built throughout a lifetime, and using this ability in our senior years is the culmination of our knowledge, life experiences and outlook.
“At Whitney Center, we work together to promote independence and well-being in a vibrant cultural atmosphere,” says Michael Rambarose. “Everything from amenities and services to programming, events and a focus on everyday wellness is designed so that residents can keep doing what they love – and discover new ways to grow and find personal fulfillment.
If you’d like to learn more about Whitney Center and how we can help you live a stress-free retirement lifestyle, contact us today. We look forward to discussing how you can begin enjoying the benefits of our Life Care Community.
Discover Excellence in Senior Living.
At Whitney Center, you’ll find a distinguished senior living community where residents do what they love. Located in Hamden, Connecticut, Whitney Center combines all the cultural, educational and historical charms of the Greater New Haven area with the intricate details of daily life for active seniors. Whitney Center is a Life Care community, offering not just an unparalleled independent living lifestyle, but a full continuum of care services as well, including assisted living, rehabilitation, skilled nursing care and memory care. Whitney Center even offers a home-based long-term care program, Thrive at Home, which connects seniors to the services they need to live well in their own home.
Choice. Freedom. Opportunity.
We believe that remaining engaged and striving for excellence builds a more meaningful life. That’s why residents experience a host of services and amenities, events and cultural opportunities and wellness programs designed to foster endless growth and personalized living. Backed by our first-rate hospitality and philosophy of continuous improvement, our residents are free to travel, learn, volunteer, set new goals and create the life they want to live.
Come Here to Thrive.
At Whitney Center, residents live in the midst of cultural arts and education and dignified connections to the greater community. Seniors thrive in pursuit of what brings them joy, with unlimited opportunities to create and contribute. And, with the confidence in quality care services available on site if health needs ever change, Whitney Center makes it possible for seniors to continue enjoying the freedom to embrace life at its fullest.
Contact Whitney Center today to learn more about our Life Care community!