While we all know the importance of eating properly and exercising to maintain our health and well-being, two research studies sponsored by the National Institute of Health suggest that creative engagements play a role in our well-being, particularly as we age. Surprised? Yes, creativity not only makes our brains work better but improves our outlook, even for those with symptoms of dementia, makes us more open and helps us connect in new ways.
While not everyone feels they are born “creative,” what’s important for well-being isn’t mastery on the piano or pottery wheel. Rather two studies show ways that everyone doing simple “every day” types of activities can find health benefits from creative engagement.
- Through singing—Research by the University of California San Francisco School of Nursing under a program called the Community of Voices, showed that after six months of engagement, participants experienced an increased interest in life and felt less lonely. (See it in action here.)
- Through theatre, dancing, and movement—Northwestern University created “The Memory Ensemble” for theatre improvisation for those newly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Through various forms of creative exercise that used imagination (for example, choosing a color to represent your feelings), people felt more enjoyment even in this new stage of life.
Now that we know the importance of creativity for well-being, what can we do to nurture it? In my life, creativity comes from simple things like choosing the flowers for my garden and finding new games to play and new foods to cook for my grandchild that delight him. It also comes from creating ALICEhelps. One of our goals is creating new processes and methods in easy-to-use software that enables creativity in caregiving.
How might you nurture creativity in the life of your aging loved one?
Here are a few ideas to consider…
- Tell stories. Your life’s story is important, especially to those who love you! Why not share it with those who come after you? Write in a journal, type on a computer, talk to a camera, or speak into an audio recorder to capture the memories. As a bonus, pull out old photos or film to add visual support to the stories.
- Act. Dance. Sing. There are many opportunities for performing in community theater or at senior centers. This can be a great way to broaden your social network while also being creative. If that’s not an option for you, perhaps you might join in theatrical play or music making with children in the family.
- Make art. It’s not necessarily about the final output, but rather the process of being creative that is key to our well-being. There are so many ways to be creative with art—from drawing and painting to sculpting and building—and they all have great value.
- Play with children. Kids are masters of creativity! Build castles with cardboard, create towns with Legos or blocks, or develop a musical production. Don’t have any children nearby? Channel your inner child to be playful in approaching everyday activities.
- Take a class. Local communities often have very inexpensive (or even free!) classes for the public. You might learn a new language, a new way to cook, or even a new trade.
- Explore. Visiting new places stretches our imagination. If your loved one can’t physically travel, how about using a computer to travel virtually?! There are many places you can visit without ever leaving your home, such as the Musée de Louvre in Paris, all of the U.S. National Parks, or the San Diego Zoo.
- Experiment. Science provides many opportunities to expand our thinking. Sure, many older adults may have done such experiments as children, but maybe not? Or maybe they don’t recall the experiences? Here are 55 easy science experiments you can do using materials you likely have on hand.