Creative ageing

A more holistic approach to health and well-being

[Image: A. Kovalchuk - Unsplash]

The term creative ageing has conventionally been applied to ‘older’ people producing and also responding to a variety of the arts. The introduction of creative ageing activities within aged care settings has traditionally been supported by the medical justification of the therapeutic effects of‘arts therapy’ and ‘music therapy’on health and wellbeing. More recently ‘Arts on Prescription’ has reflected the international shift away from the biomedical model of health to a more holistic approach which sees health as physical, mental, and social well‐being. Increasingly creative ageinginitiatives in the community are gaining traction as these are viewed as providing holistic benefits for ‘older’ people by interrelating participation in the arts and ageing.

Traditionally, big “C” Creativity has been exemplified by globally famous ‘old’ artists, living beyond today’s average life expectancy, as these artists have broken through conventions to produce works of originality late in life. For example, Goya (who died at 82), Matisse (85), Michelangelo (89) and Titian (88). Picasso who died at 90 produced around one third of his work in his 60s. Creativity can coexist with disability, for example Goya who was deaf and bedridden for long periods and Beethoven’s absolute loss of hearing and chronic illnesses, recently dramatised as 33 Variations with Ellen Burstyn (herself aged 86), portraying a musicologist experiencing the palliative stage of her life.

Little “c” creative ageing initiatives have proliferated in the community for example quilting involving women over 50; amateur arts groups, choirs, ukulele groups, movement, dance and storytelling.Questions arise defining the boundaries of creative ageing. Does creative ageing only apply to ‘high’ arts or equally to everyday craft activity? Are U3A, baby boomers attending concerts (e.g. WomAd) and football spectatorship examples of creative ageing?  How can this be distinguished from the creative work of great artists?

Arts on Prescription possesses clear target groups for medical interventions; however, the research demonstration of arts interventions are commonly anecdotal. An Australian study of the Hammond Care model investigated how participatory arts can be delivered in the community (Poulos et al 2018). Courses were available in the visual arts, photography, dance and movement, drama, singing, and music classes were held by professional artists weekly for 8–10 weeks. Evaluation data on 127 participants aged 65 years and older were analysed using a quantitative scale on mental wellbeing (Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Well‐being Scale (WEMWBS)) and qualitative methods. The findings reveal a statistically significant improvement in mental well‐being and increase in the level of self‐reported creativity. Qualitative data indicate that the program provided challenging artistic activities which increased participants’ sense of purpose and direction. Participants spoke about the program building ‘self‐esteem’ and achievement and meaningful relationships with others.

The enormous diversity of activities has generated numerous examples of creative ageing in communities and residential care contexts.

I am currently writing a book on creative ageing and am very keen to collect research examples of initiatives in community and aged care settings.  If anything comes to mind, I would greatly appreciate an email at

[Source: Dr Elizabeth Brooke, Senior Research Fellow (Hon), Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne]