Senior Musings on Aging and Creativity

Senior Musings on Aging and Creativity
March 07
00:00 2013

“Art knows no age. The body may change, but imagination still burns bright.” – Jane Alexander, Actress

What do Helen Keller, Golda Meir, Nelson Mandela, Frank Lloyd Wright, Peter Drucker, Maya Angelou, Dr. Seuss, and Alfred Hitchcock have in common? Answer: they all were/are still sharing their talents with us in their later years (70’s and up). Oh, but they are all famous, creative people, you say. I’m not creative. Why, I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket; I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler; You can’t teach old dogs new tricks; I can’t boil water without scorching it and so on. Have you heard any of these and similar comments before? Uh-huh.

What do we mean by creativity, any way? Dr. Gene Cohen, the guru on creativity and aging has defined it this way: “It is our innate capacity for growth. It is the energy that allows us to think a different thought, express ourselves in a novel way. It enables us to view life as an opportunity for exploration, discovery, and an expanding sense of self….and it knows no age.”

Dr. Cohen even explains his views on creativity by the following equation: “C=me2. He states that creativity c is the result of our mass of knowledge (m) multiplied by the effects of our two dimensions of experience (e2).The first dimension reflects psychological and emotional growth over the years; the second dimension reflects accumulated knowledge of life and the wisdom resulting from it.”

You can see that older people have enhanced potential for creativity because they have accumulated its key ingredients-life experience and perspective. I also like the definition by Birren and Deutchment: “Creativity is behavior that results in new functions, forms, or ideas…involves flexibility of mind, fluency or flow of ideas, and originality…Every day signs of creativity may be seen in sewing, woodworking, cooking, gardening, problem solving, inventing, constructing or integrating many other ideas and materials.”

Interesting. Yet why should creativity matter to a senior? “Art and aging bring us face to face with the unknown. When an artist starts out making something, the unknown weighs heavily on the process and the outcome. It is the same with growing older; we are not sure of what will happen to us. Through creative approaches to everyday life and artistic means of self-expression, we can engage the mystery. We can explain ourselves, our context of being, and discover what it means to be human.”

Robert Achley states that ” there is great healing power in creatively articulating one’s life. Creativity is motivated by the prospect of self-actualization, which is a strong motive for overcoming or compensating for even the most disabling conditions of old age.”

And Margaret Cuikshank agrees that “creating in some form is a way past despair, bodily decline, or the absence of friends who have died.”

From a research project on creativity and aging, preliminary findings reveals that the intervention group, in contrast to the control group experienced:

*Significantly better overall health *Significantly fewer falls and less hip damage *Significantly fewer doctor’s visits *Diminished use of medications *Diminished vision problems *Significantly better scores on the Geriatric Depression Scale and the Loneliness Scale *Increased involvement in activities.

WOW! That is an impressive list of benefits! Incidentally, there was a rumor that when several of the participants in the control group heard that being part of the study would improve your love life, they tried to change their names and get in the intervention group!

In terms of benefits, we see that creativity has both community and policy implications.

Dr. Cohen, the principal investigator stated that……”these community based cultural programs for older adults appear to be reducing risk factors that drive the need for long-term care.”

For more information go to National Center for Creative Aging’s ground breaking study: ‘The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs On Older Adults’.

Bob Blancato, member of the policy committee for the White House Conference on Aging said that recommendations for increased funding should be positioned as an investment and not as an expenditure.”

TIME’s January 16th issue has a special section ‘How To Sharpen Your Brain’. Among other items, there is a section, which lists facts and myths of creativity and reality. Check yourself on these:

1.Creative people get a great idea in a flash and then just execute it.

2. Creative people always have great ideas.

3. Creative people have radical new ideas that come out of nowhere.

4.Creative people blindly ignore convention because their inspiration springs full-blown from their sub-conscious. According to the writer, all of these are myths. (You’ll have to read the article to get the explanations.) The article also informs us on situations in which we tend to have our creative ideas or brainstorms. In research creativity it is known as the 3 Bs-for the bathtub, the bed and the bus. When we take time off from working on a problem, we change what we’re doing and our context, and that can activate different areas of our brain . I know this to be true; I have sometimes alerted colleagues when I was going on a trip and that I was sure to come back with some new stuff!

For several years I have a had a dream that this “city of the arts” would put on some type of arts and aging festival. We could have exhibits, concerts, demonstrations, symposium and so on. There are so many wonderful creative people in our community and I would like to see them honored with a special initiative. I believe that money could be found among large corporations, foundations, federal grants as well as from generous donors and patrons of the arts. So, are there any takers for implementing my dream? The process of putting on such an event would be creative, and would illustrate creativity as product, process and persons.

Nancy can be reached at

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James Taylor

James Taylor

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