The Creativity and Aging Study




Abigail Jefferson: Hello. My name is Abigail. I’m a theater and storytelling teaching artist and creative aging trainer with Lifetime Arts. This lesson, we will be learning about The Creativity and Aging Study, the foundational study that informs the best practices behind creative aging.

We will learn about the research that supports creative aging best practices and the key pillars of creative aging. Those of us in the arts have always known that the arts are good for you. Here is the science behind creative aging to support this assertion.

This study proves that arts engagement is especially good for older adults. Dr. Gene Cohen led the creativity and aging study out of George Washington University in 2006. The study was done over three years in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. In each site, there was a control group of older adults, ages 65 to 103, who did their usual activities and an intervention group who participated in professionally conducted art and cultural programs.

There were 50 participants in both the control and intervention groups in all three sites. Both groups were well-matched in terms of functioning at the start of the study. There was expected decline in this age group. However, instead, the study produced these results:

  • Those in the intervention group used less medication, had fewer doctor visits, had less depression, and overall became much more engaged and active in their lives.
  • Cohen and others have discovered that the aging brain is far more plastic than previously believed, and that structured learning especially through the arts can improve cognitive functioning and enhance the quality of life.

Dr. Cohen’s landmark research identifed the two key ingredients to successful creative aging programs, mastery and social engagement. Simply put, learning something new (or more in-depth) and making friends in the process.

Mastery is only possible in sequential programming, building the skills deliberately each week through practice, exploration, and experimentation in the art form.

Social engagement is only truly effective when the same group works together as artists over a period of time. After all, it takes time to build new social connections. In the case of an established community like a senior center, it may take time to undo some previously held ideas about one another and start to build new connections through the art making process.

There is a call nationally for new research into creative aging, and the NEA is working on connecting research institutions with arts organizations to catalyze this effort.


Many of these studies can be found online in Lifetime Arts’ Creative Aging Resource [website], and you will see links to these in this lesson and throughout the training.

While the research points towards art form, specific lines of inquiry and study, the research results are the same across all of the studies. The brain is far more plastic than we once believed, and engaged learning can actually improve your health.

The Wall

Extra credit: Look at aging from a new point of view. (3:33 min.)
“The Wall,” produced by E.A. Michelson Philanthropy (formerly known as Aroha Philanthropies), challenges all of us to look at aging from a new point of view and combat ageism through learning and making art.

Each section of Creative Aging Foundations features worksheets for your own use when planning creative aging programming and writing grants for program funding. A complete set of Creative Aging Foundations worksheets will provide you with a shortcut to an organizational strategy to better serve older adults through anti-ageist approaches, best practices, and key insights on program funding and sustainability.

Access the worksheet for this topic:

Section 1D Worksheet: Seeding Creative Aging in Your Organization