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Art as Self Care for the Elderly

There’s an endless list of activities that become increasingly overlooked as we age. Life, as they say, gets in the way of us and the things we’d rather be doing. Watching a corny movie comes to mind - one that’s intentionally stupid or overly sentimental, just because we like the way it leaves us feeling during and after it’s done. The same could be said of seemingly pointless conversations with friends, a favorite hobby or way to spend our free time, an excursion to a new restaurant or exploring new scenery, a good book that’s been on our lists for too long - and so on. What we’re really talking about here is self-care - the little things in life that make us feel alive and connected to both ourselves and the people around us. For the eldery, a loss of this practice is unfortunately all too common. Art Therapy is one of foremost ways care workers, loving relatives, and even seniors on their own volition can intentionally practice self care.

Art Therapy can involve any artform you can think of: Painting an amateur scene of foliage; drawing caricatures; writing short stories or poetry; building model cars; working with clay; dancing the macarena; photographing the world around them. Any artform could be deemed appropriate as long as it both is within a senior’s functional capabilities and has their interest. The real pitch for art therapy rests in the extensive benefits it can have for the elderly.

Overall health has been shown to increase as a result of participating in art therapy. There’s an abundance of research supporting the notion that art therapy is correlated with better physical health, less visits to the doctor and a decreased reliance on prescription medication. Time and time again, participants have been shown to fall less, need less support, and report a bolstered sense of self worth and purpose. These quick data points are of no small significance. Art’s ability to bolster self esteem, fend of boredom, and invoke introspection are all noteworthy and significant as well. Yet art therapy’s biggest benefit resides in the wonders art therapy can do for a senior’s cognitive abilities and their overall mental health.

Art connects us to other people - both those around us and cultures with which we’re unfamiliar. Participating in an art class can help seniors make new friends, find new passions, and reinvigorate a lust for life they might’ve lost touch with. Connection translates powerfully into a sense of self and identity, largely through the community that can be built through practicing art of any kind. Cognitively, art provides for a sense of control that may be missing in their lives. Ownership over their craft activates the portion of the brain responsible for creativity and ingenuity - aspects of cognitive activity that are critical for fending off depression and anxiety.

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