Arts & Healthy Aging: The Evidence is Clear


Earl Debnam participates in an ART is NOT an OPTION! workshop.

No matter whether you've felt creative your entire life or think you "don't have a creative bone in your body," the value of expressing yourself through visual arts, music, theatre, dance, writing and/or crafting is clear. Each of us has nothing to lose and much to gain.

In 2006, Gene D. Cohen, MD released a groundbreaking longitudinal study that measured the effects of participatory arts on older adults. He found that professionally conducted arts and cultural programs resulted in higher overall rating of physical health, fewer doctor visits, less medication use, fewer instances of falls, better morale, less loneliness, and fewer other health problems than in comparison groups. Furthermore, older arts participants experienced an increase in total number of activities while the comparison group evidenced a significant decline.

Numerous studies support the importance of arts to aging adults—decreased anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, and increased memory recall, mood, sense of control over life, self-awareness, non-pharmacological pain management, and social interaction.

Even art appreciation makes a difference. Just last month, a new study found that stroke survivors who like art have a significantly higher quality of life than those who do not. Patients who appreciate music, painting, and theatre recover better from their stroke than patients who do not.

The April issue of AgeWise King County highlights three local arts organizations that bring the benefit of participatory arts to older adults experiencing life challenges—disibility, homelessness, dementia. Path with Art, here:now, and Art is Not an Option! make our community richer.

For readers interested in promoting participatory arts for older adults and individuals with disabilities, local advocacy organizations include 4Culture, the cultural services agency for King County, and the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. Both offer funding for artists and arts programs.

A wealth of online arts advocacy and program development resources includes Creativity Matters: The Arts and Aging Toolkit and Grantmakers in the Arts: Arts and Aging.

One objective of the 2012–2015 Area Plan on Aging for Seattle-King County is to explore new partnerships with arts organizations, public libraries, and local colleges to enhance access to lifelong learning and volunteer opportunities for older adults. What opportunities do you see for older adults and the arts in our area? E-mail your ideas to

Get moving, stay connected, make a difference!

Diane Snell, Chair
Seattle-King County Advisory Council for Aging and Disability Services