In 1999, Fisher and Specht studied the relationship between successful aging and creativity by interviewing artists aged 60 to 93 and published findings in Journal of Aging Studies. Analysis of gathered data resulted in their description of successful aging as follows:
…six features of successful aging: a sense of purpose, interactions with others, personal growth, self-acceptance, autonomy, and health. The findings indicate that creative activity contributes to successful aging by fostering a sense of competence, purpose, and growth. Abstract
I like the concept of “successful aging.” It does harken back to something I learned in college psychology classes — Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development, Maturity being the stage entered around age 65 and continued until death. In order to be successful at this stage older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. This is supposed to lead to feelings of wisdom, while failure to take this perspective results in regret, bitterness, and despair.
That view of life stages was fine for a twenty year old college student, but now I know better. I am certainly not going to be content to base feelings of success and fulfillment solely on looking back at my life. Yikes! I may be mature, but I am not giving up on a long and fulfilling future by any means. Damn it, I still have growing to do!
This past winter I signed up for a drawing class, followed it up with a watercolor painting class in early summer. I am now on my third session of watercolor painting. While I have always liked to doodle and draw, I never had any real instruction until so very recently. I am learning new ways of seeing as well as learning specific techniques for painting. I am enjoying myself immensely.
Gene Cohen, M.D., , Ph.D. studied the relationships between participation in cultural programs and aging. Specifically, he looked at the impact of art programs on the social functioning, physical and mental health of older adults.
Some of his findings about the benefits of participation in arts programs for older adults are as follows:
- Better health overall
- Fewer doctor visits
- Less medication prescribed
- Increased activity and social engagement
- Projected health care cost savings to Medicare
(Worth the cost and effort to me, but maybe Medicare should pay for art classes as a wellness activity for eligible participants. Just a thought.)
If, like me, you are not willing to accept that the only course for the aging brain in a downhill trajectory, You might want to check out Dr. Cohen’s book — The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain
Successful aging…It’s about keeping the mind creative, active, and flexible.