Is Creativity Lost in the Aging Process?

Augustana Care Open Circle Adult Day Services is honored to introduce award-winning author and speaker, Stacy Monson, as a guest blogger. Monson’s latest, Open Circle, is a fictional novel highlighting senior care and reveals an extraordinary God in an ordinary life. Open Circle releases June 21, 2018 and is available for pre-order here.

The quick answer? Absolutely not! The myriad of benefits derived from the creative process while we’re young holds true as we age. In fact, it’s essential to keeping our brain engaged, stimulated, even challenged.

Creativity comes in many forms, including but not limited to:

  • Drawing, painting or coloring
  • Sculpture
  • Music
  • Writing
  • Sewing
  • Drama

What stimulates one person may leave another snoring (literally and figuratively), so a discussion about creativity must be broad and inclusive. While creative processes may look different, the effects are often similar.

Stimulating the Senses

Creativity in any form involves the senses. In fact, senses are heightened throughout the creative process. Gnarled hands may not be as adept at drawing or writing as they once were but utilizing larger materials can still allow that creativity to flow. Voices once vibrant and strong may now wobble or be off-key, but the effects of singing are no less powerful.

Even simply watching creativity in action such as a potter at his/her wheel, or a guest pianist will stimulate the brain and engage the senses. We’re not just looking at someone, our brains are responding to the process as we experience something creative unfolding before us. We’re surprised, amazed, touched, and entertained. And interacting with creativity, whether it be singing along, painting or drawing or playing an instrument stimulates more parts of the brain to involve the whole person.

Music is especially powerful as it engages nearly every part of the brain. As memories are stirred, so are the emotions connected to them. What we hear is processed by areas in the brain associated with long-term memory, so while an elder may not be able to recall the names of familiar people, they often can sing (or at least hum) a song from their younger years. People who speak very little, or not at all, might suddenly sing a song they knew as a teenager.

“Where words fail, music speaks.”  -Hans Christian Anderson 

Releasing the Inner Self

Imagination exists even in those with dementia; participating in a creative process can provide a way for them to express themselves when words fail. Isolation and loneliness are experienced by both the elder and their caregiver as the world around them becomes smaller. Creativity in any form can encourage conversation, evoke memories (especially if it’s something they used to do), and give a sense of accomplishment that is often lost in later years. 

Art can be an equalizer, allowing everyone to participate at whatever level they are able. It removes barriers and provides an opportunity for people to create in their own way. When there is no right or wrong, only creative fun, there’s no fear of judgment, no anxiety around trying to communicate. A simple smile, a gentle touch, a shared laugh will create a relaxed atmosphere for elders to focus on creating rather than on the difficulties of day-to-day life. 

The Joy of Creation

Studies and research on the impact of creativity on people with dementia is ongoing, but no scientific study is needed to discern the joy found in the act of creating, participating in activity, and in completing a project. The human mind is astonishingly creative in countless ways; providing methods to release that creativity encourages a sense of accomplishment, happiness, and connection with others that positively impacts those dealing with dementia.

Art in any form can foster a sense of well-being that may linger for a time after the activity. Depression and anxiety may lessen while the elder is focused on something outside of themselves. The aches and pains of aging can be forgotten, if just for a short time. Conversation will be sparked by the choice of colors or patterns, or by memories that surface. That social interaction draws people outside of themselves, stimulating a sense of personal significance that is often lacking.

No matter how simple the final product, there is joy in the physical act of creating something, and in the sense of accomplishment that accompanies it. Seeing one’s project hanging on the wall, giving a concert (however brief) as part of a choir, or enjoying coffee with friends or family after art time are opportunities to celebrate the little things in life that are truly the big things. 

While it might be challenging, identifying what creativity might look like in an elder’s life and finding ways to implement it on a regular basis can deeply impact both the elder and those around them. It’s not about creating something noteworthy or award-winning. It’s about releasing the inner creativity within each of us, giving it wings and experiencing its impact in daily life. It’s about rediscovering (or perhaps discovering for the first time) the creative person within.

What does creativity mean to you? What does it look like? How can you introduce more of it into your own life, and the life of your loved one? Keep it simple and fun. The impact will go deep.

Augustana Care Open Circle Adult Day Services provides respite care for caregivers while helping people with changing physical, cognitive, and/or social abilities to enjoy fulfilling lives. We offer three convenient locations throughout the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area. Each of our locations offer programs, recreation, personal care, respite and social connections to individuals with memory loss or other emotional and physical needs. Contact one of our centers to learn more about how Augustana Care Open Circle can support care partners to find balance and meaning in a life touched by memory loss or other diagnosis. 

Stacy Monson is the award-winning author of The Chain of Lakes series, including Shattered Image, Dance of Grace, and The Color of Truth. Her stories reveal an extraordinary God at work in ordinary life. Residing in the Twin Cities, she is the wife of a juggling, unicycling physical education teacher, and a proud mom, and doting grandma.