The Role of the Arts in Creating Wellness

Group Of Seniors Standing By Piano And Singing Together


“The medical profession has come a long way in recognizing the healing benefits of art. My hope is that someday the arts will be considered as significant in everyone’s lives as breathing fresh air, eating clean foods, and performing physical exercise.” – Renée Phillips

The idea that participating in creative endeavors can be a powerful force for healing has been embraced by many different cultures, religions and societies. Throughout history, people have used drawings, music, dancing, and storytelling as a means to create wellness. Many healing rituals involve chanting and music.

Most people are familiar with the power of the arts to transform lives and alter one’s perception of the world. Many of us have had the experience of having a book, movie, or play provide a springboard for future dreams and aspirations. Most of us have experienced what it’s like to have a favorite song or painting transport us to a different place and time.

As it turns out, nearly everyone can benefit from participating in the arts. Research has shown that creative expression can lower stress, boost self-esteem and stimulate the mind. A Mayo Clinic study published in Neurology showed that people who engaged in the arts – such as painting, drawing and sculpting – in both middle and old age were 73 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) than those who didn’t engage in artistic endeavors. Those who passively participated in the arts – such as going to the theater, concert or the movies – were 55 percent less likely to develop MCI.

Participating in the arts can also lower stress, which can keep the mind healthier. A study published in Art Therapy showed that just 45 minutes of creating art – which included drawing with markers, modeling with clay and/or making collages – lowered the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in 75 percent of participants, regardless of their skill level. Just under half of the study participants reported that they had limited experience in making art.

Many health providers are now looking at the arts as of a form of therapy. A recent study from the University at Texas Arlington found that art therapy helped 98 percent of participating veterans better cope with service-related trauma (such as PTSD) or disability. The same percentage of participants reported that art therapy helps them better cope with everyday life.

The creative arts are often used to help those living with dementia. Both passive enjoyment – which may include listening to music or enjoying the beauty of a painting – and active participation in the arts help people living with memory loss to better recall memories and feel more engaged in life.

Music & Memory is a nonprofit organization that creates personalized music programs for older Americans, including those living with dementia. A Brown University study found that senior living communities that adopted the Music & Memory program saw a significant decline in residents using antipsychotic drugs and engaging in disruptive behaviors compared to those communities that didn’t adopt the program.

The documentary film “I Remember Better When I Paint” shows how painting can help enrich the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s. A study published in the Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences focused on Mary Hecht, a sculptor who was diagnosed with vascular dementia. She was able to draw detailed sketches and portraits, all from memory, of people she met or of earlier drawings she had created. Artistic abilities, at least in some cases, seem to be preserved in spite of the loss of memory.

LifeCare Advocates’ Creativity Coaching

At LifeCare, we understand the importance of the arts in creating wellness. That’s why we have a dedicated staff member who provides art coaching sessions to our clients. This service is ideal for clients with cognitive impairment, anxiety, depression, or who simply have interest in expanding their experiences. We have seen dramatic changes in outlook and mood in many of our coaching clients, even those with no previous art experience.