Aging may be the new frontier, with cognitive scientists conducting studies along side of brain research to discover what can soften the effects of growing older. A study at the Mayo Clinic produced evidence that engaging in the arts can prevent cognitive impairment. 16.7 percent of artistically active subjects, as compared to 49.2 percent of non-artistically active subjects, had cognitive impairment.
They are not sure why, but because activities like painting use many parts of the brain, it is possible that new neuron pathways are being created to compensate for lost ones.
Taking up painting later in life can be daunting because the majority of the population believes you must have innate artistic talent to be successful. This is a myth in our culture. Actually painting can be learned just like learning another language. Anyone can get the benefits, which also include better physical health, less depression, and a new understanding of the world.
The time spent in painting sessions can be a journey to another world, with time and space suspended while full concentration on color, shapes and subtle details of the visible world engross the painter completely. Even physical pain can disappear when fully concentrating on translating a subject matter into the language of paint.
While some art classes for older people are not instructive, but just a safe place to play with paint and socialize, many people are capable of real art education. If one does not want to enroll in a formal art school and learn color theory, use of materials, composition and drawing, they can still find art classes that teach all these things at the pace needed for the student.
Another study shows that viewing and understanding art can decrease physical symptoms such as inflammation, because of the positive emotions, such as awe, evoked looking at masterpieces. The best way to appreciate art is to know how it is made, pointing again in the direction of art making decreasing aging.
Following discovers that elders can revive memory from having the right music program, geriatric institutions are developing other art programs. They find elders can use art tools for personal expression, and this can reduce stress hormones and blood pressure, thus improving health and forestalling aging.
The sooner a middle aged or older person makes art making or art appreciation part of their life, the stronger these effects will be in turning back the clock. But even late in life, engagement in painting or other arts can improve the quality of life.