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How art can help us to age, healthy


Unexpectedly, art can be a key aid to staying functional in the later years of life.

Perhaps many of us already well know the formula for aging in health and wellness. A balanced diet and, as much as possible, one that’s natural. Keep our brains active and stimulated. Preserve and nurture significant personal relationships, and perhaps some other things besides. But few might imagine that art could also be a positive factor during this last stage of the journey.

In particular in the United States, ongoing projects have for several years overlapped the fields of the arts with aging and have gathered remarkable and even encouraging results.

The efforts of Music & Memory, for example, at first glance seem simple. When looked at in detail, especially at those who benefit, the effect is stunning. The staff of the organization visits nursing homes to deliver digital audio players to residents. They target those suffering from neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Modern research has found something that great artists have known through intuition; that music has a profound impact on our memory. To hear a certain tune can be one of the most effective vehicles for connecting with deep memories we’d thought were forgotten. And that means that Music & Memory can give these patients the most therapeutic assistance for their ailment: music.

painting, bird on finger

Paradoxically, many of these homes have considered substantial budget allocations for drugs to treat such disorders, but not for personal music players. This is a contradiction that surprised Dan Cohen, founder of Music & Memory and as result, in part, he decided to help address it.

One study that provided further evidence of the relationship between creative activities, aging and health was published in 2006 under the direction of Gene D. Cohen, a gerontologist at George Washington University. In the research, Cohen tracked changes in three groups of elderly New Yorkers with access to artistic activities and compared them with a control group. Among the most noticeable results, he found that one year into the study, the people who steadily received the stimulus from artistic disciplines during that time had lower degrees of mental degeneration when compared with individuals in the control group.

According to Dr. Cohen this is because creativity challenges the mind. This results in the formation of new dendrites and therefore new avenues of communication within the brain.

This neuronal-level explanation could be combined with other qualities of art that have been better explored by creators. In the lives and work of writers, painters, sculptors, architects and filmmakers from almost any era we can find a constant in that art is a way of exploring and especially, connecting. This works in two ways. First, in the world of the interior, and most definitely of our subjectivity, the condition makes us unique individuals. But after this, art inevitably tends toward a second movement; toward a connection with someone else. If we write, it is for someone else to read. If we paint, it’s because we want another to look at the painting, and the same goes for those who make films or build buildings. In someone else, we find the culmination of any creative activity. And what better way to grow old is there than without ever losing the links with others who can take in, share and celebrate our passions –– and perhaps vice versa.

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