10/22/2020 | By Annie Tobey

Opportunities for creativity seem to wane the further we get from childhood. But the benefits are many, especially for aging adults. To ensure that your loved one can realize these benefits, we offer nine tips for getting more creativity into your aging loved one’s life.

Benefits of Art for Seniors

Creativity is built in to the fabric of our youthful lives. Coloring books, art projects, building sandcastles, and making dandelion necklaces – the opportunities seem boundless. Then we become adults, and time constraints get in the way: education, family responsibilities, work, and unending outside activities. The busyness leaves little room for creativity, and we virtually forget the joy of creation. With retirement, empty nests, and moves to senior living communities, time opens up.

Taking part in creative activities improves seniors’ physical and mental health. The National Endowment for the Arts, AARP, the National Center for Creative Aging, and the International Music Products Association sponsored a conference on creativity and aging in America. They partnered to make recommendations to the White House Conference on Aging. Attendees reported that “active participation in the arts promotes mental and physical health among older adults living independently in the community, improves the quality of life for those who are ill, and reduces the risk factors in older adults that drive the need for long-term care.”

Group creative activities offer the added benefit of social engagement. Older adults living alone often battle isolation, leading to loneliness, depression, and serious health conditions.

9 Opportunities for Creativity for Seniors

Some creative activities can be enjoyed anywhere, even in the peace of one’s own home. Others can be experienced together – perhaps you and your loved one, or maybe with the grandkids. Some activities can take place within the senior living community, and others provide an opportunity for a field trip.

1. Arts and crafts kits

My Granddaddy Tobey became enamored of paint-by-number kits after he retired. Not only did that provide him with a creative outlet, but he shared his paintings and his love for paint-by-number with at least one of his grandkids – me.

Arts and crafts kits aren’t just for kids – plenty are tailored for adult interests, too. They provide the needed materials, so you won’t have to go researching and searching yourself.

Plus, don’t forget the therapeutic benefits of art!

2. Rock painting

All you’ll need are some rocks, paint, and brushes. Designs can be simple, like starbursts, smiley faces, words, and rainbows, or more complex, like animals and fruit – or whatever the shape of the rock brings to mind. What’s even better, though, is that these can become gifts – little tokens to friends, family, and nursing staff – or hide-and-seek rocks.

Hide-and-seek rocks offer a chance for a field trip, too! Paint the rocks with positive messages, like “Be Kind,” “Smile,” or “Do Good,” and leave them in parks, at playgrounds, or at a school bus stop. You and your senior artist can sit back and watch for the rocks to be discovered, or just imagine the joy when they are.

3. Coloring books

Coloring isn’t just for kids! Adult coloring books require simply a set of crayons or colored pencils. The book can be picked up at any time, for just a few minutes or a more extended creative session. Though a few adult coloring books contain more, well, “colorful” adult content, most feature themes such as mindfulness and stress-relief; whimsy and humor; and pictures like fancy owls, dogs, cats, and other animals.

Simple tasks like this will really help with creativity for seniors!

Woman journaling to get more creativity for seniors

4. Journaling

Some people can sit down with a blank journal and write. For others, guided journals – providing questions and similar prompts – can get creative juices flowing. Journaling doesn’t need to involve words alone. Doodles and other illustrations are totally valid uses of empty pages.

Since many older adults have reached a stage in life where they want to reminisce, guided journals that ask about the past can provide hours of creativity and nostalgia. Mom, I Want to Hear Your Story uses prompts to take a mother through her childhood, teen, and adult years. Rachel, you can connect this to Amazon Affiliate

You could also make your own such journal for your loved one to fill in, including pictures of beloved places and people along with questions, prompts, and blank pages for the memories.

5. Storytelling

Why does a journal have to be only the truth about real life? Maybe now is Mom or Dad’s time to create a totally new story, to become a fiction writer, poet, playwright, or children’s book author! Given the many easy and inexpensive ways to self-publish these days, these creative works could even make it into print.

6. Crafty field trips

Over the past few years, businesses have sprung up with studios for DIY painting and crafting. Some of these studios provide one-time guided classes for creating specific projects, such as a portrait of a pet, a seasonal scene, ceramic items, terrariums, hanging baskets, and more. The communal set-up of these studios makes them ideal for doing as a group – perhaps even as a multi-generational family outing.

7. Expert-led classes

Many senior communities offer arts, crafts, and other creative classes for residents to enhance creativity for seniors. Outside of these communities, many businesses and nonprofits offer classes – some a one-time class and others that offer a series of classes, to really fine-tune the artsy skills. In-depth classes could even lead to an enjoyable ongoing hobby – perhaps even a marketable one. After all, Grandma Moses didn’t begin painting in earnest till she was 78 years old! She knew the importance of creativity for seniors!

As an example, here’s a sampling of visual and performing arts classes from Richmond, Virginia. The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen teaches jewelry making and ukulele lessons. The Visual Arts Center hosts more than 1,000 classes each year, from glass work to writing. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s educational workshops include botanical illustration and nature photography. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts similarly nurtures the creative juices. Art on Wheels even takes their programs out to the community.

8. Artsy field trips

Although your loved ones may not be rolling up their sleeves for this, they can benefit from visits to art museums and concerts. I took my elderly father to see the Picasso exhibit when it rolled through our town. Although he didn’t appreciate the painter’s virtuosity (and loudly made some amusing comments that didn’t go unnoticed by other exhibit visitors), he enjoyed the outing and took the chance to talk about some of his favorite artists. Daddy and I also went to the occasional symphony concert, giving him the chance to absorb his life-long favorite musical genre.

Creativity for seniors is important, like this man playing piano

9. Make some music

The benefits of music reach across all ages and health levels, including dementia patients. People with dementia retain intuitive responses such as feelings, creativity, appreciating music, and recognizing beauty, explained dementia expert Judy Cornish. “Music lights up many regions of our brain and engages us in many ways,” said Debby Dodds, a Spokane-based gerontologist.

Benefits to dementia patients can come from simply loading up a music player with favorite oldies-but-goodies. But even better is to make it a social activity. If your loved one’s senior living community doesn’t already host sing-alongs, help them arrange one. Reach out to a local church to see if some musical members would be interested in leading such a gathering, especially to enhance creativity for seniors.

Add simple instruments to the sing-along for added participation: maracas, bongo drums, castanets, kazoos, combs, and more.

Creative activities like these can bring more life to your loved one’s days. They may even connect the two of you in the joy of a shared activity.

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey