Wellness through Creative Expression

Illness, loss of mobility, or limited physical abilities resulting from aging can be a source of stress for senior adults. Individuals who had once had full control over their lives suddenly find that they need the help of medical professionals and caregivers. Stress can be heightened during and after a hospital stay, and this can increase the person’s risk of being readmitted to the hospital. As medical professionals seek solutions to improving patients’ outcomes, many are turning to complementary therapies to help patients overcome the psychological and emotional factors that may impede their progress. One such therapy is art therapy.

Art therapy has been shown to have a direct impact on individuals’ wellness and can help the elderly adapt to changes and loss brought on by age and/or illness. By engaging in creative activities such as painting, drawing, clay work and sculpting, jewelry making, scrap booking, and so forth, seniors have a channel for expression. Some studies have demonstrated that individuals involved in art activities needed to see their doctors less often, used less medication, and had a better outlook on life overall.

Art can help dementia and stroke patients communicate nonverbally and can uncover hidden abilities that seniors may not have known they had. Working on a creative piece can give seniors who may feel as though they no longer have any control over their lives the ability to take charge, be responsible, and have control over the outcome of their work. The finished creative piece stands as a reminder that they can still learn and adjust to life’s circumstances and that they still have abilities and resources. This has the effect of instilling hope and confidence in a person who may have been defeated by feelings of dejection.

Even if seniors do not have direct guidance from a licensed art therapist, they can still benefit from creative activities. Well-trained caregivers can choose creative activities that take advantage of seniors’ strengths and abilities, enabling them to successfully produce works they can be proud of and that give them joy. Caregivers can share in this pursuit by assisting when seniors need help, for example, aiding the senior with detail work during jewelry making if the senior has failing eyesight or problems with dexterity. Seniors can find companionship and a personal connection with caregivers by sharing their own experiences and knowledge as they work on the creative piece.

Focusing on the creative process serves to alleviate stress by providing seniors who are struggling with physical limitations with a sense of purpose. In turn, the decrease, or even the perception of a decrease, in stress levels may just be what the doctor ordered to allow the senior to successfully recover at home.


  • Chancellor, B. Duncan, A. & Chatterjee, A. (2014). Art therapy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 39, 1–11. DOI 10.3233/JAD-131295.
  • Edmonson, D., Green, P., Ye, S., Halazun, H.J. & Davidson, K.W. (March 2014). Psychological Stress and 30-day all-cause hospital readmission in acute coronary syndrome patients: An observational cohort study. PLoS ONE 9(3): e91477. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091477.
  • Johnson, C.M. & Sullivan-Marx, E.M. (2006 ).Art therapy: Using the creative process for healing and hope among African American older adults. Geriatric Nursing, 27(5), 309–316. DOI: 10.1016/j.gerinurse.2006.08.010.

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