Most of us probably know at least one person—perhaps a parent, grandparent, or friend—who seems to age disproportionately slowly, and remains active and mentally sharp well into their senior years. Sadly, the reverse is often true, too, and many people begin to experience cognitive and/or physical decline earlier than seems normal.
Why different people age differently is one of the remaining medical mysteries. While the biological mechanisms underpinning differential rates of aging are still being researched, scientists have succeeded in identifying protective factors that can potentially help to stave off cognitive decline. The list includes factors such as diet, exercise, social connectedness, and alcohol consumption.
Another important factor for maintaining cognitive health is mental stimulation, particularly engagement in creative activities. Here, we’ll review some of the evidence for the benefits of creative activities for elderly individuals, as well as some ideas for easy activities that you or your loved ones can practice.
Creative Activities May Reduce Cognitive Decline
As it turns out, when it comes to cognitive function, the “use it or lose it” rule applies. Multiple studies have suggested that mentally stimulating activities—for instance, games and art activities for seniors, to name just a couple—can help improve quality of life for seniors via better memory, increased self-esteem, and reduced stress. For example:
- One study conducted on mentally-intact people in their 70s and 80s measured the frequency with which individuals engaged in mentally stimulating activities (including reading, writing, doing puzzles, or playing games) against their cognitive function over the next five years. The results showed that the individuals who engaged in those activities the most were half as likely to develop cognitive impairment.
- Another randomized controlled clinical trial in China tested the effects of a creative expression program on the cognitive function of older adults who were experiencing mild cognitive impairment and were at risk for dementia. The program, which involved storytelling and picture-drawing tasks, was found to be effective in improving cognitive functioning and ability to perform activities of daily living.
- As this third study shows, mentally stimulating activities can act synergistically with other protective factors. The study, which was conducted in Korea on individuals aged 65 and over, investigated the effects of a recreational program that combined physical and recreational activities with arts and crafts. Individuals who participated in the program twice a week for eight weeks (16 sessions in total), showed reduced levels of depression, improved ability to perform activities of daily living, and significant improvements in cognitive function.
It’s thought that the mechanism by which creative activities help protect and bolster cognitive function has to do with the Cognitive Reserve hypothesis. According to this theory, certain experiences (among them education, occupation, and mentally stimulating activities) effectively strengthen multiple different sets of neural networks (or brain pathways). Having multiple sets of neural pathways at its disposal allows the brain to be more fluid and compensate for any cognitive damage by utilizing different pathways.
Creative Activities Improve Mental Health and Reduce Stress
In addition to preserving cognitive function, creative activities have also been shown to improve mental health by alleviating stress and anxiety, as well as relieving the symptoms of trauma. It’s also been known to improve mood and help people feel more relaxed. Like exercise, creative activities are also beneficial in that they provide a distraction from negative thoughts or events, a chance to get out of your head and focus on something else.
Anyone can benefit from the healing potential of creative activities. However, given the high prevalence of depression among older adults (some estimates place it as high as 28.4% worldwide), creative activities have especially potent implications for senior populations.
Creative Activities Help Preserve Fine Motor Skills
It’s not uncommon for cognitive decline in older adults to be accompanied by deterioration of motor skills as well. Usually, this deterioration manifests in the form of tremors and loss of dexterity. Fortunately, practicing these skills frequently can help preserve and strengthen them. Arts and crafts activities for seniors—particularly those that involve hand-eye coordination, using both hands, skillful manipulation of instruments (like scissors), and controlled movement requiring brain feedback—provide great opportunities to use fine motor skills.
Creative Activities for Seniors: Getting Started
If you’re not used to thinking of yourself as a creative or crafty person, the thought of creative senior activities might feel a little daunting. However, that doesn’t have to be the case; there are plenty of relatively uncomplicated, beginner-friendly activities out there that anyone can enjoy. Consider starting with something simple like pressing flowers, making a collage board, creative writing, or painting.
Whatever activity you choose, experts agree that the most important thing is that it’s mentally stimulating. That could include things like reading, playing games, or learning a new skill. To that end, Seabury offers a variety of educational, creative, and recreational activities for residents, all of which are designed to provide opportunities for social connection and intellectual engagement—and, of course, fun.
Seabury provides peaceful living opportunities for adults ages 50 and older looking for fulfilling, independent lifestyles. Our philosophy centers the physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness of our Residents. Living options range from independent apartments and villas to cottages as well. Our continuum of care model is designed to make Residents’ lives as comfortable as possible. Your Life Plan Contract at Seabury, should you require it in the future, also includes a transition to assisted living, memory support, and nursing care services for the same monthly fee. Contact us today for more information!