How can art improve health for older people?

Art has been used as therapy for hundreds of years in clinical and other settings. However, how much does participation in the arts have a positive impact on people's health and well-being?

What is well-being?

Well-being, as described by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is “a state of physical, mental and social wellness; a way of life which equips the individual to realise the full potential of their capabilities and to overcome and compensate for weakness.”

The arts can play an important role in well-being, as HammondCare has discovered through feedback and creating a sector guide for our Arts on Prescription program. Created by the Centre for Positive Ageing, Arts on Prescription brings together music, dance and the visual arts in an aim to help older people improve their physical and mental well-being.

The program is fun, engaging and practical whereby experienced artists work with small groups to help participants explore their own creativity and learn new skills – while at the same time focusing on specific health and wellness needs.

“This program has brought me back to life again. It has helped me get over my grief and loneliness. Socially, it was marvellous. It has released me to be me.” - Dorothy, participant of Arts on Prescription.

Benefits of participatory art

Some of the main benefits of participating in art, as found by our Centre for Positive Ageing team in collaboration with research conducted by WHO 1  and the Baring Foundation , include:

  • Assisting older people to overcome social isolation by providing opportunities for friendship and support
  • Improving mental well-being, confidence and self-esteem
  • Helping people through periods of loss and bereavement
  • Improvements in measures of physical health, such as functional ability, joint mobility and cardiovascular fitness, allowing older people to undertake increased levels of general daily activity
  • Skill development in the creative arts
  • Enjoyment and pleasure

Engaging with the arts can empower people in a way that complements rehabilitation. Through Arts on Prescription, research shown in the Sector Guide created by HammondCare, highlights that the act of creating something tangible has a transformative effect on older people. Whether through visual art, music, artistic movement, photography – all art forms provided people with tools to express emotion, experience or thoughts in a way that they may not have had access to before. The artists help to give people these tools, partnering with them to bring the positive changes that they want to see in their own lives.

“The Arts on Prescription program and artists gave me power to try new things and the drive to keep going.” - Ahmed, participant of Arts on Prescription.

Want to support our Arts on Prescription program?

To donate to HammondCare's Centre for Positive Ageing program, or to learn more about how our various programs can improve health and well-being for older people, click here.
2 An Evidence Review of the Impact of Participatory Arts on Older People, commissioned by the Baring Foundation, 2011.