Creative Aging Pt.1: Got Dementia? Go Dancing!


It’s not often that we receive a message from doctors upon the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia to go dancing or paint a picture. But what if it was? Doctors around the world are beginning to recognize the health benefits of engaging in arts activities as treatment for all sorts of illnesses. Just check out this recent article in the Washington Post, all about how doctors may soon be writing prescriptions for dance, art, or music lessons.

Research is discovering that engagement in art is essential across the lifespan. Today, we talk about the movement of creative aging, what it is and how it has a direct impact on our health and wellness. Deb Campbell with Arts and AGEing KC shares how participation in the arts as we age is a way for us to process life, later in life, as we find more time and space for reflection. We can put the pieces of ourselves together and that’s what creative aging is all about. Who was I? Who am I? And who have I yet to become?  Deb is a leader and thought expert in the field of creative aging. Her work spans multiple industries and disciplines: gerontology, recreation therapy, drama and improv theater, and even children’s theatre.

Deb shares how experiences with her father and the model he set for what aging well should look like, is what inspired her to originally begin working in this field. She also shares what it’s like when one’s professional and personal lives collide, as she discovered in caring for her mother with dementia. Sometimes that professional advice you give others is easier said than done. But in the end, it all circles back to the unwavering belief and commitment to integrating the creative arts in our approach to care. Here are the largest tips we can walk away from this conversation with:


  1. Be playful. The wonderful thing about joining someone in a creative space is that it takes the pressure off. It releases us from the expectation to act or speak in a specific manner. This makes it way easier for persons experiencing memory loss to engage.  An article from Aging Careargues for a different way of looking at dementia care, “Play and dementia care may seem like an improbable oil-and-water pairing, but anecdotal and scientific evidence in favor of this phenomenon continues to mount.”  Researchers at the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CABHI) have brought the power of play to dementia care through the Play Intervention for Dementia (PID) strategy, specifically designed to work with dementia clients and caregivers to teach the art of engaging in play, together. So don’t be afraid to bring out your inner child and step into the imaginary (or not so imaginary) world of play.
  2. Get creative. Engaging in the arts activities, whether that’s painting a picture, dancing, learning a new instrument, joining an improv group – all of these things can have a direct impact on our health and wellness as we age – both cognitively and physically. Art can stimulate the brain bypassing some of the barriers the Alzheimer’s and dementia put in place. Here’s a great article by Medical Daily that drives this point home:“Art Therapy And Dementia: How Creativity Helps Unlock Alzheimer’s Patients’ Thoughts And Fears.” and another from the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CABHI) on the impact on dance in dementia care.
  3. Pull out life stories. It’s so important toprovide a voice for older adults who are feeling irrelevant or isolated. When people see the importance put on their life stories, there is an eagerness and hunger to begin to share.
  4. Join the creative aging movement. It’s a growing tribe of artists, health professionals, doctors, caregivers, and persons living well with dementia who are advocating to integrate this approach into models of direct care in managing this diagnosis. If you’re interested, here’s a list of resources to help you explore more of this.
  5. Check out what Deb and her team are doing to inspire lifelong

As a gerontologist and creative aging expert, Deb has a beautiful outlook on the aging process: “An 85-year-old potentially has yet to emerge fully as their true self. Through painting a picture, or dancing, or making music; this is the space where we are providing opportunities to age creatively. Bringing in all different art forms and integrating them into our lives [and that of our community] – it’s important work.

I couldn’t agree more. If you like what you read (or heard), please tell other people about it and share us on social media.

Join us next time on Life With Dementiathe solution-driven podcast sharing relevant research, personal stories, and practical tips for living well with dementia.

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Photo by Diego Rosa on Unsplash

Music by Blue Dot Sessions “OneEightFour”