Many seniors, as they age, believe that the most important thing they can do for themselves is to focus on their physical health. And while it is important for seniors to improve their nutrition and stay active—especially in winter—the physical aspect is only one component of a holistic healthcare program that allows seniors to thrive. Brain health, both in terms of brain function and mental health, is an equally important focus for seniors. And one of the best, not to mention most fun ways to boost both brain function and mental health may surprise many: Painting!
How Art Activities Help Support Mental and Physical Well-Being As We Age
Yes, the act of simply picking up a paintbrush and applying paint to paper or canvas has a startlingly high number of health implications for seniors. For example:
1. Painting Helps Memory in Seniors
Studies show that people who regularly engage in creative activities like painting, journaling, or playing a musical instrument are less likely to experience impaired memories as they grow older, and better recall visual pieces of information. Additionally, painting has been shown to increase spatial awareness, or the ability to navigate physical surroundings. This is invaluable for seniors, who typically experience impaired spatial navigation after the age of 60.
Moreover, research has shown that in those who do suffer from dementia, painting and other creative activities can stimulate their memories and improve cognitive function. This happens, research shows, because creative endeavors stimulate different areas of the brain, areas dementia often leaves untouched. The impact of painting on memory is so profound, in fact, that there was a documentary made about the “miracle” activity that allowed dementia patients to recover a sense of identity and feelings of dignity, I Remember Better When I Paint.
2. Painting Helps Mental Health in Seniors
It’s very common for seniors to experience stress, anxiety, and even depression. And while there are many different coping mechanisms and therapeutic approaches for these mental health issues, none are quite so enjoyable as painting!
- Studies show that after 45 minutes of painting, painters experience a decrease in stress—no matter the painter’s ability level, from novice to expert. This is because art impacts the way the brain processes information and changes its wave patterns in ways that actually raises a person’s serotonin levels.
- Moreover, many seniors report that as they paint, they experience a release of negative emotions like sadness and fear. This not only results in lowering stress, but in alleviating anxiety and depression. Many seniors who find talking through their emotions a difficult experience have turned to art therapists as an alternative form of processing a variety of mental health issues.
3. Painting Helps Self-Confidence in Seniors
Many people—not just seniors—hesitate to take up painting because they don’t see themselves as artistic or creative. However, painting does not require any sort of prerequisite talent or experience! Those who are courageous enough to take the first step often find themselves not only enjoying painting, but realize they do possess an artistic ability or creative talent.
The low-risk nature of painting—all art holds beauty, and mistakes are simply opportunities to try something new—allows even the most timid of new painters to experience success as they practice creating. Additionally, painting is a very forgiving medium, and seniors who paint can quickly grow in their talent as they practice new techniques and approaches. Many seniors report a boost in self-confidence the longer they paint.
Additionally, painting improves fine motor skills over time. Seniors who are battling the decline of their gross and fine motor skills are encouraged as they begin to regain—or at the very least, slow the decline of—these skills.
4. Participating in Art & Creative Activities Helps Growth Mindset in Seniors
The excellent thing about painting is that there is not a single “right way” to paint; even better, mistakes made during painting are merely opportunities to adapt the painting and find creative solutions to the “mistake.” This regular practice of challenging their minds to think originally, try new approaches, and think outside the box fosters a sense of growth mindset in seniors. That is, instead of a fixed mindset, where they believe they either are or are not good at something, their new growth mindset allows them to approach life with a, “not yet, but I can learn” approach.
This growth mindset in seniors helps their brains stay agile, alert, and ready to face other challenges life throws their way with a similar approach. As they face the many challenges that await them as they age, they can say, “I can learn how to do this” as they apply creative solutions and think outside the box as they learn new ways to live in more limited situations.
Here at Morningside, we highly encourage our seniors to participate in creative activities like painting!
If you’d like to learn more, we offer guided tours year round. Give us a call or visit us online to schedule a tour today. We would love to show you around!