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The Case for Creative Aging

“The number of Tennessee seniors age 65 and over is expected to almost double from 850,000 in 2010 to 1.7 million in 2030,” according to an April 2017 Comptroller’s report on senior long-term care. Driven by the Baby Boom generation size and increasing lifespans, “this population change will result in significant growth in the demand for and potential cost of current services and programs.” The 2014-2018 State Plan of the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability notes that current programs are already beyond maximum capacity. Programs that can delay or prevent seniors’ functional decline, allowing more to stay longer in their homes, can reduce the need for higher cost services. Research has also indicated that the brain continues to develop in response to experiences and learning if it receives the proper stimulation.

Participation in the arts can be a unique and effective pathway to help older adults stay active, healthy and engaged in their communities and in activities that give meaning and quality of life beyond basic health and safety. Research indicates that the impact of arts participation in older adults can lead to better physical health (fewer doctor visits, less medication usage and fewer falls, etc.); better mental & emotional health and increased social interaction (as evidenced by better morale, less loneliness & depression); and enhanced cognitive function (increases in memory retention, judgement, perception, and reasoning). In addition, seniors who stay healthy can continue to be a valuable resource for their communities, offering wisdom, skill and time, both paid and volunteer.

In response, the TN Arts Commission has developed the new initiative, Creative Aging Tennessee. In partnership with fellow Tennessee Livability Collaborative Members — TN Commission on Aging and Disabilityo and the TN Department of Health, Creative Aging Tennessee will work to connect older adults with creative experiences in their communities and aims to help promote the following outcomes in older adults throughout the state:

  • Health & Wellness – Promotes interventions through the arts to improve health and well-being outcomes among older adults. Examples include music programs that help improve the cognitive skills of people with memory loss or dance programs which can improve balance and gait in people with conditions that affect motor abilities.
  • Lifelong learning and Engagement – Promotes greater cognition and creativity through the arts among older adults by means of social engagement. Examples include using theatrical training to improve cognitive (problem-solving, word recall, & listening) skills or using storytelling with peers to increase social and emotional engagement.
  • Increased positive attitudes/perceptions about aging – Promotes older adulthood as the beginning of a life suited for productivity and purpose through the arts. Examples include older adults taking a hobby (jewelry making, wood carving, quilt making, etc.) and turning it into a crafts business with mentorship of young craftsmen, or older adults becoming teaching artist and teaching young people how to write/speak poetry as a way of expressing themselves.
  • Connecting older adults to their communities – Promotes ways of connecting older adults to the communities around them through the arts thereby reducing isolation and increasing social interaction. Examples include multigenerational, creative writing programs where the knowledge/wisdom of older adults is shared with young people or establishing a docent program for older adults at an art gallery.


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