About our Project

Ageing Creatively: a pilot study to explore the relation of creative arts interventions to wellbeing in later life

The therapeutic and healing use of the creative arts (e.g. music, poetry, dance and painting) has a long history in human development. Recent studies have explored the benefits of older groups of people engaging in creative arts and have reported improved physical health, social interaction and vitality for participants. 

Within an increasing focus on wellbeing for older people, it then follows that we could, even should, develop a creative arts intervention that, if suitable, be prescribed by GPs as part of a patients’ healthcare. However, engagement in creative activities is a complex process that if developed into a robust medical intervention requires that we follow two stages: the pilot study and the main study designed on ‘lessons learnt’ in the pilot. In the pilot study, we need to know 3 types of knowledge:

  • what are the effects on participants’ lives/wellbeing of engaging in a creative activity so that we know that the intervention is beneficial and not harmful
  • what is happening during the process of engaging in the creative activity, from both the participant and researcher perspective, so that we can identify the ‘helpful aspects’ to replicate/enhance, the ‘less helpful aspects’ to eliminate and the bits that we don’t yet understand and mark ‘to watch’ in the main study
  • to create a clear rationale for why we chose certain methods (our methodology) and to test, evaluate and refine our methods for the main study 

While current research offers interesting and thought provoking insights there are three known gaps in our knowledge:

  • many studies begin from the premise that art intervention are inherently beneficial and there is no attempt to establish the absence of adverse affects
  • few studies explain their methodology or rigorously test their methods; a stark contrast to the development of medical drug intervention
  • while many studies discuss the outcome of the creative activity (“I feel more confident”), less has been written on what is happening during the creative process that results in the reported benefits to wellbeing    

Consequently, our pilot aims to support research/good practice by:

  • Exploring the presence and/or absence of adverse effects of the art intervention
  • Studying both the process and the outcomes of the creative art intervention (in a way that recognises the structure/scaffolding of critical and creative processes without stifling creativity and recognises that tacit knowledge may remain ‘unspeakable’)
  • Testing our methods and developing a rationale of why these methods were chosen (in order to develop evaluation methods suitable for complex non-drug medical interventions, that include creative practices)   

This knowledge can enable Society to begin to answer pivotal questions, such as:

  • How do the creative arts foster a sense of wellbeing for older people?
  • Do the main benefits arise from regular social contact with a group (that reduces a sense of isolation as experienced by some in later life) or is there something peculiar to engaging in a creative activity?
  • Are there greater benefits from engaging in and producing a work of art (e.g. a poetry workshop) as compared with engaging in a creative activity only (e.g. a book group)?
  • Are the benefits from creative arts both physical and emotional (e.g. singing can ‘lift the soul’ while engaging the vocal chords and improving breathing)?
  • Can engaging in a creative activity be into a preventative non-drug intervention for groups of older people that can be prescribed?

We focus on anticipatory care: prior to people entering the healthcare system, stating ‘I have a problem’, being labeled ‘patient’ and the somatic body being medicalised.

Final Report March 2014

Ageing Creatively Final Report

Final Report - Appendix 1

Final Report - Appendix 2

Final Report - Appendix 3