Family Caregiver Blog

Without Further Ado, The Creative Arts

By Sally Abrahms

I am sitting in an Art Deco movie theatre outside of Boston watching Humphrey Bogart hand Ingrid Bergman her travel papers. As Bogie utters, “Here’s looking at you, kid!” the audience yells the famous line at the screen. I have absolutely no idea who among them has dementia and who are their family caregivers but they all have a common interest in the creative arts.


Now picture this: at a world-class museum, I watch both Alzheimer’s caregivers and their beloved parent, spouse or sibling, talk animatedly about what they see in the Picasso in front of them.


On another note: At the Unforgettables choir founded by Mary Mittelman, a professor of research in the department of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine, caregivers and family members with Alzheimer’s sing their hearts out once a week for two hours with a music therapist. It’s not just familiar tunes; participants are able to learn new songs through music and movement. They have even put on concerts for the public.


Welcome to the great equalizer called “the creative arts” or “creative aging.” Around the country, programs are springing up for older adults with and without memory loss. Many of these initiatives include caregivers, but far from all.


At the senior theatre company Stagebridge in Oakland, CA, more than 30 creative arts classes in improv, acting, storytelling, playwrighting, acting, and singing, among others, are offered every week.


The movie and museum programs I attended on the East Coast have been replicated nationwide. Long-term care facilities are bringing playwrights, dancers, musicians, actors, poets, and other professionals into long-term care facilities to work with residents and staff. Other programs take place in libraries, community centers, senior centers, adult day care and arts institutions.


Creative Arts programs offer big benefits


When older people are involved in the arts—writing poetry or plays, composing songs and stories, participating in music, dancing (even in a wheelchair), watching snippets of big picture classics, or creating or viewing art—the emotional, physical and intellectual benefits can be tremendous.


Studies have shown that creative arts programs (where older people are involved, interested, and learning something new) can boost concentration, cognition, mood and self-esteem, trigger long-term memories, reduce falls, loneliness, depression, pain and the need for medication, and increase mobility. Participants feel valued and part of a group.


Caregivers reap positive results, too. It gives them the opportunity to do something with their family member, not just for them. They can temporarily escape the new role they have assumed as caregiver/care recipient and just be two people having fun together in the moment—like old times.


Good news! You don’t have to scramble to find programs in your area. The National Center for Creative Aging has handily compiled a directory by state (bravo!). You can also check with your local senior center or Area Agency on Aging or look in your local paper.


Here are a few of my favorites: Ruth’s Table, Kairos Dance Theatre, Songwriting Works, Sweet Readers (intergenerational), and engage in Creativity.