Why Arts and Aging?

What is the Role of the Arts in a Long-Term Care Facility?

Last year, the members of the Expressive Arts team with whom I work in a long-term care facility for older adults organized a fashion show in conjunction with the annual fall art show. Over the course of four months, we met weekly with interested residents who planned the show, chose clothing to model that best expressed their personalities, and practiced their moves down the runway. The Expressive Arts team, including another art therapist, a dance/movement therapist, and a music therapist, collaborated with the residents to ensure the show met its intended purpose: to provide a moment for the participants to feel proud in front of family members, staff, and other residents while challenging conventional ideas of age and beauty. As the participants practiced their moves down the runway for the first time, we watched each person’s transformation as he or she took the spotlight. Chins lifted, smiles spread wide, and arms floated through the air. One of the participants commented as she reached the end of the runway, “Bubbles! I feel bubbles inside!” We could all feel it.

The Rise of Arts & Aging

This year, Chicago Bridge members started a Creativity and Aging Special Interest Group and Deborah DelSignore presented on the connection between creative arts therapies and the culture change movement.  Nationally, the success of programs like Meet Me and films like I Remember Better When I Paint have demonstrated the use of creative arts programming with older adults.

What Does It Look Like?

Who are the professionals using the arts in their work with older adults? What is the difference between expressive arts therapies, arts education, and other types of arts programming? Are you a professional who uses the arts in your practice? Do you know someone whose life has been changed through art? What questions do you have about expressive arts’ connection to aging? Let me know! I will be posting about expressive arts therapies throughout the year on the Chicago Bridge blog, following the lead of previous post topics such as dance/movement therapy for people experiencing symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. Thank you to Elyse Baylis for editing this post, and thank you to Sarabbit for allowing us to use her photo.


  • Melissa Buckles Haley

    Thank you for this article, Katharine! I am always interested in how music, art, and other “nontraditional” therapies can help older adults!

  • Anne

    Wonderful article Katherine! I really like how you characterized the reaction of the participant on the runway. I think that anyone who has seen firsthand the power of expressive therapies for individuals with cognitive impairment could feel this response. Thank you for highlighting such an important topic.

  • Fabiana

    The Arts completely fulfill the guidelines put forth by the US gov for healthy aging: Mastery and Engagement. It has been proven* that older adults who create art:

    1. use less medication
    2. have fewer doctor’s visits
    3. score lower on depression scale
    4. score lower on loneliness scale
    5. develop a sense of identity
    6. reduce the risk factor associated with long-term care
    7. transforms senior centers

    All of these benefits have ripple effects – fewer doctor’s visits and medication can be very relevant to living costs and fewer medications can mean fewer adverse side effects.
    I look forward to seeing arts programs grow in the older adult population as an essential, not extra, activity.

    Thank you for the post and more proof that it works!

    *“The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural programs on the Physical Health, Mental Health, and Social Functioning of Older Adults”, The Gerentologist, vol 46 no 6, 2006
    Dr Gene Cohen, Susan Perlstein, Jeff Chapline, Jeane Kelly, Kimberly Firth, Samuel Simmens

  • Thomas Lindquist

    Katharine, I very much enjoyed the article. You are doing great work!

  • Katharine Houpt

    Thank you, Melissa, Anne, Fabiana, and Tom!

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