Art therapy programs — incorporating music, painting, dance, writing, and storytelling — are revolutionizing anti-aging initiatives and nursing home care across the country.
The New York Times
reports such programs have become standard components of care at a retirement and care facilities in many states, pumping new life into the bodies and minds of the elderly.
“The arts open people up, giving them new vehicles for self-expression, a chance to tell their stories,” said Janine Tursini, director of Arts for the Aging in Rockville, Md., which runs music, dance, painting, and storytelling programs at 26 senior centers in the Washington, D.C., area.
The program employs 15 teaching artists to work with seniors where they live or visit regularly.
Tursini said the program seeks to “get at what best jazzes up older adult.” with what she calls “art making” projects that “capitalize on assets that remain, not on what’s been lost.”
She added that a National Endowment for the Arts-sponsored study showed that when older people become involved in culturally enriching programs, they experience a decline in depression, are less likely to fall, and pay fewer visits to the doctor. Other studies have found people with Alzheimer’s disease benefit from music and arts programs, which can boost their mood and decrease their agitation.
In addition to Arts for the Aging, a number of similar programs are gaining steam across the country:
- The Music and Memory project, now in many nursing homes and facilities for the aged, uses music therapy with Alzheimer’s patients to boost their memories and enhance their lives.
- The EngAGE program in Southern California offers classes on various art forms and aims to create “arts colonies” at senior residences and nursing homes.
- Elders Share the Arts in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the Creativity Discovery Corps use the arts to creatively challenge the minds of seniors.
- The Dances for a Variable Population program aims to get older adults dancing in libraries, churches, senior centers — anywhere elders gather.
The social engagement these programs provide has been repeatedly found in scientific studies to prolong life and enhance healthy aging. Clinically, the programs have been linked to lowered blood pressure, reduced levels of stress hormones, and increased levels of the “happiness hormones” responsible for a runner’s high.
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