Senior Living Care Blog

Why Expressive Art Therapy Can Help Seniors

Posted by Jackson Bentley on Dec 21, 2018 11:00:00 AM

While we know that physical exercise can have benefits for the mind and the body, it is a lesser known fact that art and creativity can also hold therapeutic benefits for both the creator and the viewer. Studies in the fields of art and music therapy confirm that creative expression can result in psychological and physiological healing.


For older patients and adults who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or some other chronic degenerative disease, expressive therapy such as art and music therapy can be beneficial. Clinical research shows that some professionals who work older adults report art therapy to be among the most essential and vital component of activities that help seniors. There are also several studies showing how making art can reduce depression and anxiety. Some people hold the mistaken belief that creativity and ingenuity disappear with age. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as imagination and creativity can actually flourish in old age.


Therapeutic art experiences can help create purpose and meaning in the lives of older adults in supportive, non-threatening ways. Neurological research actually shows that making art can improve cognitive functionality by creating new neural pathways and stronger connections. Accordingly, art enhances cognitive capacity, helping the brain actively compensate for pathology by using more efficient brain networks and alternative brain strategies. Making and viewing art causes the brain to continue to reshape itself and adapt, restructuring and keeping fit.


Bruce Miller, behavioral neurologist at University of California, states that while brains will inevitably get older, our creative abilities are not guaranteed to deteriorate. In old age, the brain actually responds well to art because it allows the brain’s two hemispheres to work more in tandem. The ability to use your creativity throughout your lifetime and continue to create new impactful connections and memories is an important part of


Another specialist on aging, Gene Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University was the first researcher to conduct a national study on the arts effect on health and illness in old age. The study was initiated in 2001, and although it hasn’t been finalized, has already served as the basis for important developments in art therapy, psychology, and expressive art therapy. Some of the benefits that this

  • Helping to relax
  • Providing a sense of control
  • Alleviating depression and anxiety
  • Improving socialization
  • Encouraging new perceptions
  • Improving cognition
  • Providing sensory stimulation
  • Creating a stronger sense of identity
  • Increasing self confidence
  • Reduce boredom


Expressive art exercises can help seniors exert self control and better communicate with others. For example, an elderly gentleman with Parkinson’s may struggle communicating his difficulties functioning, but through the power of expressive art could create a collage describing what it feels like to suffer from this debilitating disease. These arts provide more than just a way to spend time. Expressive arts help creators and viewers find meaning and purpose in old age. When designed and directed by a trained specialist incorporating specific objectives, these exercises can address the emotional and physical needs of seniors.



Art as Therapy

A senior in an assisted living facility painting as a form of expressive art therapy.

This is the approach taken by artists, art educators, and healthcare specialists. The method emphasizes the value of the creative process as a therapeutic experience that can help individual tap into and express their imagination and creativity.



Art in Therapy

Art in therapy incorporates art and clinical psychology. This method, which is usually employed by trained art therapists, pursues therapeutic objectives for the patient and therapeutic art activities to address specific treatment objectives.



Artistic Outlets for Seniors

Arts and crafts can provide a fun source of stimulation for the brain, as well as being a good hobby for seniors. From painting, to sculpting, to scrap-booking and photography, there are a plethora of outlets available for seniors to express themselves in a fun and inventive way. Art is a vital activity for people of every age, but for seniors it can be a useful way to keep the brain active and alert, socialize, and help give those dementia a chance at a better quality of life.


We’ve mentioned it before, but gardening can be a highly beneficial hobby for seniors to pick up. Gardening is one of the most effective ways for seniors to maintain a healthy active lifestyle into old age. It’s a rich and rewarding activity that stimulates the senses, reconnecting you with nature and depending on what you plant, rewarding you with beautiful and delicious byproducts. Gardening also provides its benefits to your physical health, helping you get a moderate amount of exercise and sunlight. According to one study published by Kansas State University, gardening is an excellent way for seniors to shed calories and increase flexibility.


Your senior can reap real benefits from the daily practice of yoga, both physically and mentally. Yoga focuses on enhancing your stability and balance which are essential for seniors. Exercises in yoga are usually gentle on the muscles and joints, and programs catering exclusively to seniors will be more doable. Plus, you don’t have to be in pristine shape to take part in a beginner’s class. Yoga enthusiasts will all testify to the efficacy of their practice in enhancing both their physical and mental well being, plus there is always a yoga studio within a few miles if you live in or near a major metropolitan city.


Artists, art educators, and healthcare workers can all offer expressive therapy as a form of help for seniors dealing with age-related dementia and other problems. Education and training to become a certified art therapist requires a master’s degree with specialized education and training in psychology and the expressive arts. Expressive art activities promote active engagement in life and help keep us engaged in life in positive, healthy, and fulfilling ways.



Next Steps

Are you looking into a senior living facility for your family member that will support their senior health? Landmark Senior Living is available today to take you and your loved one for a tour at one of our seven premier and affordable retirement communities. Call now for more information!



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Topics: Senior Activities

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