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Creative Expression and Artmaking for Aging Adults as a Way to Reduce Depression

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

Depression is a common mental health disorder that can happen at any age, but it’s more common in older adults and seniors. Depression can make it hard to engage in or complete your usual activities, connect with others, or enjoy life. Symptoms of depression also include negative thoughts and emotions, which often lead to a feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities. Depression may be caused by a combination of physical, emotional, and social factors. Older adults and seniors may be more likely to experience depression because of changes in their mental and physical health, such as arthritis, heart disease, stroke, or cancer. They may also be less active, socially isolated, and have fewer close relationships.

The benefits of creative artmaking and self-expression through art continue to grow and be expanded upon as new research continues to evolve. A growing body of research shows that engaging in creative activities like drawing, painting, and sculpting can help reduce depression and improve mood in older adults. Creative expression and intentional artmaking has the potential to improve mood, reduce depression, provide a sense of accomplishment, increase social interaction, and provide an overall sense of well-being for aging adults. These potential benefits in turn have a positive cumulative impact on one’s quality of life, which incorporates psychological, physical, and cognitive wellness.

Often as we age, there can be a loss of independence or autonomy depending on changes to our physical and cognitive functioning. Creative art expression can offer an individual a sense of control and mastery over their lives, which can be very beneficial in reducing feelings of depression. Additionally, making art can help seniors connect with others, fostering social bonds that are important for overall well being.

A newer study published in The Arts in Psychotherapy has found that older adults who engage in artmaking activities experience reduced depressive symptoms and improved moods. "The arts are a means of communication that can transcend cultural barriers and offer people a shared human experience," said researcher Hanna Krasnova. "They offer participants a sense of self-expression and enable them to communicate their personal experiences and feelings."

In another study, adults aged 65 or older who created art showed significant improvements in self-esteem, mood, and life satisfaction. Overall, artmaking in an art therapeutic setting has the potential to improve memory, utilize different thought processes, promote social interaction and engagement, encourage self-expression, induce pain relief, improve gross and fine motor skills, and enhance mood and cognitive stimulation.

One art directive that has shown to be particularly helpful for the aging adult population is the life review activity. The life review art directive encourages individuals to review major life crossroads, transitions and influential experiences as a way to stimulate memory recollection, promote self-awareness and aid in meaning making as a life enhancing process. This activity in particular has the potential for increased self-acceptance, meaning making, relationship building, self-reflection and integrity and coherence of one's life story. Consider incorporating creativity intp your day to day through individual or group activities available to you.

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