Art for Healthy Aging – Another Prevention Strategy

by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer

At any age, art in all its forms can provide benefits; this is particularly true for the elderly. Neurological research clearly shows that making art can improve cognitive functions by producing both new neural pathways and thicker, stronger dendrites (involved in passing on signals in the brain). It even helps the brain to re-map how some connections are made as cells in one area become incapacitated. The process is called elasticity as some cells replace the function of others. In short, making art causes the brain to continue to reshape, adapt and restructure.

In a groundbreaking new book published in 2000, Dr Gene Cohen expounded on the idea of what was possible with aging, moving research towards a goal beyond “what is aging?” His research recognized that older adults had a capacity for creativity that was not being recognized due to negative attitudes towards the elderly.

His study, the first of its kind, found a link between creativity and healthier aging. Compared to those in the study’s control groups, people who participated in art programs enjoyed better health, both physical and mental.

In addition to improving the quality of life for seniors, there is a huge opportunity to reduce the volume of costly health care for seniors if we can maintain their health for a longer period of time. There are great examples of prevention oriented programs that use arts as a focus such as the Arts and Health initiative – a partnership between Vancouver Coastal Health, Vancouver parks and Recreation, community groups and local artists. Prevention works.

Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.

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