The Benefits of Creativity for Older Adults

The Benefits of Creativity for Older Adults

Most people agree that artmaking is good for kids, but being creative is good for adults, too. And, contrary to conventional wisdom, creativity is especially good for older adults, says Tim Carpenter, founder and executive director of EngAGE. Carpenter will give the keynote address at the Denver Art Museum symposium Artful Aging: Through the Lens of Miró on May 7. (Watch his TEDxSoCal Talk or click the image at the bottom of the page.)

What does Miró have to do with aging? He created the masterworks on view at the DAM in Joan Miró: Instinct & Imagination in his seventies and eighties.

“What artists know is that creativity is a way for your mind to be open to new things,” Carpenter said. “The act of creating something leads to happiness, and getting out there taking classes and such is a form of socialization and opens your world.”

But being creative isn’t just good for you mentally, it has physical benefits as well. Carpenter pointed to a study by geriatric psychologist Gene Cohen as evidence. “This study showed that people who become and stay involved in arts courses taught by professional-level artists saw huge improvements in their physical health.”

And while the sooner people can start creative pursuits, the greater effect it will have, Carpenter noted it’s never too late to get the benefits of creativity. “Americans see getting older as this ending point and decline whereas research on the brain shows the opposite. Your brain increases its ability to make new connections,” he said. “Our brain continues to grow as we get older, and certain forms of creativity fire neurons in a way that creates connections in the brain.”

So where should baby boomers and WWII-generation folks begin? Carpenter said, “Dust off your dreams.”

“Look at the things you always wanted to do but didn’t think you had the time to do because of work and family obligations,” he said. “I know people who go to stand-up comedy classes or learn to sing.”

Stand-up comedy and singing in public may sound pretty bold, but don’t worry, Carpenter also suggests going to museums and taking art classes. “Learning about art and making art with your hands is really good for you. Frankly, just try something,” he said. “Everyone has the ability to be creative and to make art. We’re told aging diminishes ability, but that’s just not true. We have to undo these myths.”

Note: Another event for older adults looking to explore their creativity is the Nooner Tour on May 6 and May 8, which will focus on Ageless Creativity and the artworks of Maynard Dixon.

Carleen Brice edits the blog and On & Off the Wall, the member magazine for the Denver Art Museum. Carleen has been at the DAM since 2013. Her favorite part of Dior: From Paris to the World is the section called "Fields of Flowers."