Vital Aging Network

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Creativity: Getting Better with Age

By Pat Samples, MA, MFA, Coordinator of the Minnesota Creative Arts and Aging Network (MnCAAN)

In some ways, I get braver as I age, and in some ways, I get more reticent about trying new things. I like the familiar, the sure, the tried and true. It’s what I’m used to, what I can count on. But I also love to explore, to learn, to challenge myself. I’m quite sure I’ll continue creating art in some form until my last breath.
That’s the paradox and the blessing of living past mid-life. A creative urge emerges that insists upon our attention, even as we come to appreciate more fully the anchors to our past—the familiar.

In his book The Mature Mind, Dr. Gene Cohen, MD, PhD, talks about the Liberation stage of our lives that occurs from our mid-fifties through our mid-seventies. In this stage, he says that we experience changes in the brain that prompt us to take on with creative enthusiasm what we’d only dreamed of earlier. We say to ourselves, “If not now, when? What can they do to me?” In the next stage, Summing Up, our attention turns to autobiography and reminiscing while we also yearn to contribute creatively and leave a legacy. The paradox continues into our final Encore stage. In each stage, the creative juices of our present sweeten the fruits of the past.

This creative cocktail also has health benefits. Dr. Cohen conducted a remarkable study to find out if actively creating art affects our health. His research demonstrated that older adults engaged in professionally led arts programs experienced significantly better health than a control group that did not. They had fewer falls, made fewer doctor visits, and needed less medication. Not surprisingly, they were also less depressed and more socially active. Many of these older artists drew strongly on their past as they created something new.

The Minnesota Creative Arts and Aging Network (MnCAAN) helps ensure that older Minnesotans have opportunities to create works of art that draw on their life experiences. This growing network is helping to inspire and educate older adults—and those who teach or care for them—about the creative needs and potential of those over 55. MnCAAN’s film The Creative Power of Aging, created with Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), highlights older artists and model programs that bring the arts into senior-service sites. The film airs regularly on the Minnesota Channel and will be shown throughout the state in community kickoff events for MnCAAN’s campaign, Creativity Matters for Older Minnesotans.

As we age, we need to create—for the sake of discovery, growth, beauty, contribution, legacy-leaving, and more. We benefit our physical, mental, and social health, and everyone around us benefits when something old and familiar in us turns into something new in a painting, a play, or a memoir.

Pardon me, but I have to finish this article now because I have an artistic project I’m working on that is calling for my attention. Is there one calling for your attention? If so, go enjoy yourself.



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