Creative Aging Success Stories

New Report Reveals Findings about the Arts and Health in Older Adults

Washington, DC—Older adults who create art and attend arts events have better health outcomes than adults who do neither is one of the conclusions in a new report published by the National Endowment for the Arts. Staying Engaged: Health Patterns of Older Americans Who Engage in the Arts presents the first detailed look at arts participation habits, attitudes toward the arts, and related health characteristics of adults aged 55 and older. Staying Engaged is based on results from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), conducted by the University of Michigan with primary support from the National Institute on Aging within the National Institutes of Health. 

“Previous studies have found a better health profile for older adults who participate in the arts, compared with those who do not, but much of that research is limited to the study of creating art, or taking part in arts classes or lessons,” said NEA Research & Analysis Director Sunil Iyengar. “This report, by contrast, looks at older adults who either create art or attend arts events, do both, or do neither, and health differences across these groups. The findings, while purely descriptive, will help future researchers to probe the arts-health relationship further.”

The HRS is a nationally representative, 20+ years longitudinal study that has tracked the health profiles of older adults through surveys and other measurement tools. In 2014, HRS investigators added survey questions about older adults’ involvement in arts and cultural activities over the past year. The new questions allow study of the relationship between engaging in the arts—as creators or observers—and selected health outcomes.

Key sections and selected findings of Staying Engaged

  •  Arts participation: The report examined creating art, attending arts events, doing both, and doing neither, among adults over 55 years of age.
  •  84 percent of these adults reported either creating art or attending arts events. 
  •  Among this group, 64 percent created art of their own, 68.7 percent attended arts events, and 48.6 percent both created and attended.
  •  Attitudes about the arts were measured through eight questions including:
  • The arts are important (63.8 percent)
  • The arts help me to be active and engaged (54.9 percent)
  • Health outcomes
  • Older adults who both created art and attended arts events reported higher cognitive functioning and lower rates of both hypertension and limitations to their physical functioning than did adults who neither created nor attended art.
  • Among those who both created and attended, cognitive functioning scores were seven-fold higher than for adults who did neither type of arts activity.

More information is in the Staying Engaged fact sheet.

About the National Endowment for the Arts

Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit to learn more about NEA.

Celebrating the Success of Our Creative Aging Program



A Creative Aging student at work.
Photo: © Denise Rohdin

Denise Rohdin, a visual artist from Waterville, is one of 15 Maine artists who have completed training to lead hands-on workshops for older adults in community settings, such as senior centers, assisted living facilities and libraries; and to be listed on the Maine Arts Commission’s Creative Aging Teaching Artist Roster.

Designed to generate opportunities for lifelong learning, the Commission’s Creative Aging Program, now starting its third year, provides new possibilities for adults over 60. Aimed at fostering creative engagement, the program also demonstrates the power of the arts in helping people to improve their lives. As Rohdin describes it, “This program is not so much about the end product…but about enjoying the process of learning while developing sequential steps to new skills.” 

Rohdin works closely with Liz Harper, the Resident Service Coordinator at Arch Beta Housing in Augusta. Together they are introducing a six-week course on printmaking including collagraph design and printing, stencil making, gelatin printing, stationery printing and use of recycled/upcycled book paper to Arch Beta residents. At the end of the workshop, Arch Beta will host an exhibit of participants’ work for family and community members.  




The Creative Aging Program also focuses on the important role older adults can play in community life. When the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library in Lovell received a Creative Aging Partnership grant to fund storyteller and Creative Aging Teaching artist Jo Radner to teach a series of eight workshops, they suddenly had a waiting list. 

Sixteen people signed up for the “Art of Storytelling” workshops in Fall 2015. The workshops helped participants discover and enjoy their own most comfortable and effective styles of storytelling by exploring classic folktales, playing storytelling games, and learning new ways of mining memories for their own narratives. Participants developed their individual goals in the class and learned how to find, create, and shape stories.  

As Radner reports, “After a few weeks of meetings one man, a farmer, wrote, ‘I’ve started carrying a pen and piece of paper in my shirt pocket to write down short phrases and thoughts that come to me. Sometimes I even stop to dry my hands while I’m washing up the milk pails so I can write something down before I forget it.’”

Radner’s class culminated in a potluck “Tellabration” on December 8, at which every person told a well-developed story and the musician daughter of one participant framed the event with harp music. Radner recorded the stories and presented each class member with a two-CD set as a memento. So enthusiastic were the tellers that the storytelling gatherings will extend through 2016 in a monthly “Liars’ Club,” sponsored by the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library and open to the public.  

Creative Aging teaching artist Jo Radner (far right) with her “Art of Storytelling”
class at the Charlotte Hobbs Memorial Library.
Photo: © Jo Radner




We'll be featuring more stories on the Creative Aging Program in the October edition of our printed quarterly newsletter. Click here and sign up to receive your copy.


If you are interested in applying for funding to have a teaching artist work with your group of older adults, contact Khristina Kurasz to discuss your project and the application process at vog.eniam@zsaruk.anitsirhk..

For more information about the application process, click here.


For more information about the training and application process, contact Khristina Kurasz at vog.eniam@zsaruk.anitsirhk..

Click here to view the Creative Aging Teaching Artist Roster.