According to Dr. Dean Sherzai, a behavioral neurologist and Director of Alzheimer’s Prevention Program at Loma Linda University, creativity is essential, especially for the aging brain. “Nothing is as pleasurable as new emotional perspectives and thought experiences, and nothing provokes the neurons to connect more than the creative space in the brain,” he says. “When people have what’s called cognitive reserve, which is excess connectivity of parts of the brain to other parts of the brain, meaning the brain is well connected through these billions of axons between neurons, it can withstand even the pathology of Alzheimer’s.”
Creativity and health
It’s widely accepted that creativity is one of the best ways to foster neuron connectivity, which supports brain health, and subsequent research into creativity has changed how we look at aging.
The Creativity and Aging Study, which explored the impact of creativity on overall health, found that participants of community-based art programs reported better health, fewer doctor visits and used less medication. They also showed better signs of mental health, greater involvement in overall activities, and maintained their independence. The study concluded that “community-based cultural programs for older adults appear to be reducing risk factors that drive the need for long-term care.”
Give yourself permission to explore
But what about those who don’t consider themselves creatively inclined? Author and Chaplain Larry S. Glover, who has published a series of books for children, suggests keeping your doors open. “Keep exploring and stay creative,” he says. “Find your passions in life, think outside of the box and take the limits off yourself.”
Journalist Mike Ulmer says that too often we put limits on our creativity. He suggests giving yourself permission to explore a new creative outlet. “Anyone can be creative, and while not just anyone can be Steinbeck, he can enable you to find your way,” he says. In his retirement, Ulmer has explored his creativity with an entrepreneurial lens, launching the Forever Book Company in which he works with older adults to tell their life story. “We pass money between generations, but not stories or values,” Ulmer says. He’s hoping to change that.
So what’s your story? Whether you write, paint or build; create out of necessity, curiosity or boredom, choose a creative outlet that brings you joy. “To see a project in my mind’s-eye, actually start the work, and then be able to hold a finished product in my hand —fills me with a joy that words can’t even come close to describing,” Glover says.
Long time Senior Planet contributor Debbie Galant, a writer for 40 years, turned to painting in 2018. “After a bout of cancer, I realized there was no time to waste to explore an untapped dream and talent. It’s been a complete rebooting of my whole personality, taking classes and becoming a member of two arts organizations.”
Where to explore your creative side
Finding new ways to explore your creative side – and meet new people – is as close as your local Senior Planet Center. In Denver, we are currently housing an art exhibit by five artists all of who are Senior Planet Members. In San Antonio in December, members are encouraged to show their creative flair with an Ugly Sweater Takeover Party. In Palo Alto, Senior Planet Member Judith Kramer will share her love of photography; in upstate New York two Members are sharing – and teaching – their love of line dancing (read about it here) and in New York City, a Member Fashion Show earned rave reviews and notice from PBS – just look!