Several social trends are converging that make it vital that our society enlist the aid of all innovative people. In particular, more people are aging and retiring as the baby boom generation reaches its “golden years.” They have time and talent to contribute that will be vital for addressing the serious social problems that we face. Also, many government agencies and nonprofit organizations are facing serious budget deficits that mean volunteers are sorely needed. This BLOG post includes a lot of information about the relationship between aging and creativity. There is a summary and review of the classic book “The Creative Age by Dr. Gene Cohen. In addition there is an extensive collection of organizations and websites about how to get senior citizens more involved with social innovation.
Click Below to Learn How Older People are Vital for Innovation.
Despite stereotypes of entrepreneurs as fresh-faced youngsters, new research has found that older workers are more likely to innovate than their under-35 counterparts. …
It turns out that many of the most common stereotypes about aging are dead wrong. Take the cliché of the youthful entrepreneur. As it turns out, the average founder of a high-tech startup isn’t a whiz-kid graduate, but a mature 40-year-old engineer or business type with a spouse and kids who simply got tired of working for others, says Duke University scholar Vivek Wadhwa, who studied 549 successful technology ventures. What’s more, older entrepreneurs have higher success rates when they start companies. That’s because they have accumulated expertise in their technological fields, have deep knowledge of their customers’ needs, and have years of developing a network of supporters (often including financial backers). “Older entrepreneurs are just able to build companies that are more advanced in their technology and more sophisticated in the way they deal with customers,” Wadhwa says.
And the age at which entrepreneurs are more innovative and willing to take risks seems to be going up. According to data from the Kauffman Foundation, the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55–64 age group, with people over 55 almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between 20 and 34. And while the entrepreneurship rate has gone up since 1996 in most other age brackets as well, it has actually declined among Americans under 35. That’s good news for one very simple reason: baby boomers are now in their prime, startup-founding years, which will unleash what Kauffman researcher Dane Stangler expects to be an entrepreneurship boom. Since new companies create the vast majority of jobs, the positive impact on a post-recession economy could be great.
Given these sorts of results, why is the notion that older people are less productive or innovative so entrenched? Part of it is because there are deep stereotypes and cultural narratives at play. In a series of landmark studies on creativity in the arts and sciences, David Galenson, a University of Chicago economist, identified two types of creativity. One was based on radical new concepts, at which young innovators excel (think Picasso or Einstein, who were both in their 20s when they revolutionized their fields), and the other built on probing experimentation that coalesces later in life (think Cézanne or Darwin). The second type of innovation is more hesitant, probing and often a work in progress, which Galenson argues leads to some of the conventional wisdom regarding older genius. That misconception has some ugly side effects. …
The way companies tend to be organized is also to blame. Companies often put new hires fresh out of college on their most innovative projects, while making older workers do routine jobs with existing systems, says Verwonk. Also, too few companies spend enough on continuous training to keep their employees’ expertise up to date. But workers themselves are at fault as well. Many older workers coast into premature obsolescence instead of keeping their skills current. In the European Union, for example, only 30 percent of employees over 55 participate in any kind of job-related training, compared to 50 percent of their younger colleagues.
One thing is clear: a change in the prevailing mindset about older entrepreneurs and workers won’t happen by itself. Mixed-age teams, such as the ones automaker BMW is using, are one possible approach and have the added benefit of minimizing the loss of knowledge that occurs when older workers retire. Siemens, the Munich-based technology conglomerate, has instituted a “cross-mentoring” system under which older employees show younger ones the ropes while getting an update on the latest skills from these new hires. These shifts are a start, but a lot still has to be done, says Verwonk. Demographic and economic pressures will soon force workers, businesses, and entire economies to rethink certain stereotypes; in a post-recession world, assuming that someone can be phased out due to age will be a luxury no one can afford.
Ask 10 adults to offer an example of a wondrous person, and I’d wage that 9 of them would point to a child. Children have their own version of wonder, but so do adults. In fact, many adults have the capacity for a richer form of wonder than do most children. …
True, many infants, toddlers, and children have a perpetual fascination with all-things-new because, well, everything – from hair pins to mud puddles to the ability to draw to the ability to make farting sounds with the armpit – is new to them. I admit I spend some time almost everyday watching with wonder my own one-year-old daughter’s perpetually awakening consciousness that explores the world through pudgy fingers, smacking lips, and wide blue eyes. For most of us, fresh senses, indeed, are the first avenue to cultivate wonder, and fresh senses are what many children have that we adults often sorely lack. Still, I prefer my experiences to my daughter’s – and I hope to prefer mine when she’s a curious ten-year-old bouncing through the Wonderland of upstate New York and Manhattan.
Highly creative people are not retrieving childhood – which includes, remember, all of its muddled-ness and meanness and necessary dependency and utter self-centeredness. These adults are retrieving wonder – which is what Baudelaire meant. When we say that “Genius is the capacity to retrieve wonder at will,” then we’re not nostalgically trying to bring back some “lost child” or “find our inner child.” We are supremely present with who and how we are.
The grown-up brain is better than the young brain – even the teenage brain – in some ways. A typical fifty-year-old brain processes information at a slower speed than the typical twenty-five-year-old’s. And, yes, the sixty-year-old brain might be more apt to forget names. But the middle-aged brain has a wealth of experience – thus making its problem-solving skills superior to the young adult brain. And the middle-aged brain also is more prone to calmness and happiness.
Older people’s brains kept responding positively – even when faced with otherwise “negative” images. More open-ness and less reactivity can prime people for more wonder than worry. And in general older brains are less reactive. Stressed, maybe, but less reactive. We can cultivate wonder at will. That’s an operative difference between most adults and most children. Knowledge and experience can enrich, not destroy, wonder. The William Blake School of Innocence and Experience – that divides the two – distorts and over-simplifies this fact. This “school” equates childhood with innocence and wonder, and adulthood with innocence and wonder lost as experience settles in like some looming cloud that rains on every adult’s parade. …
If we continue associating wonder with childhood instead of with dynamic adulthood, then, ironically, we might continue to refuse to grow up. And we might continue to create a culture in which children and teenagers also refuse to grow up. When an adult sings the Peter Pan song, “I Don’t Want to Grow Up,” I think, “Really?” You want to be a poop-in-your-pants toddler? Or a teenager? Do you really want to be twenty years old again? Is adult responsibility and the inevitable disappointments and desires deferred only a burden to be wished away?
I adore my daughter and honor children their sovereignty and innate wisdom that often far supersedes mine, but I do not desire to live in a world created mostly by children and teenagers or by adults who wish to grow down. I desire a world created by dynamic adults awake to their capacity for wonder. Over and over again. An adulthood characterized by empathy, creativity, true knowledge, and wisdom – all four with their sources in wonder. Are you calling me naïve and innocent? Okay, you’re proving my point. I’m 45 and practical, too.
Youth and creativity have long been interwoven; as Samuel Johnson once said, “Youth is the time of enterprise and hope.” Unburdened by old habits and prejudices, a mind in fresh bloom is poised to see the world anew and come up with fresh innovations—solutions to problems that have sometimes eluded others for ages. Such innovation could be at risk in modern science, as the number of successful young scientists dramatically shrinks.
In 1980, the largest share of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) went to scientists in their late 30s. By 2006 the curve had been shifted sharply to the right, with the highest proportion of grants going to scientists in their late 40s. This shift came largely at the expense of America’s youngest scientists. In 1980, researchers between the ages of 31 and 33 received nearly 10% of all grants; by 2006 they accounted for approximately 1%. And the trend shows no signs of abating: In 2007, the most recent year available, there were more grants to 70-year-old researchers than there were to researchers under the age of 30. …
The age distribution of NIH grants has significant implications for American science. It has become much harder for young scientists to establish their own labs. According to the latest survey from the National Science Foundation, only 26% of scientists hold a tenure-track academic position within six years of receiving their Ph.D. The aging of science might also alter the productivity of the nation’s labs. In recent years, psychologists have begun studying the relationship between age and creativity, trying to understand how increasing experience affects the way we think.
One theory suggests that creative output obeys a predictable pattern over time, which is best represented by an “inverted U curve.” The shape of the curve captures the steep rise and slow fall of individual creativity, with performance peaking after a few years of work before it starts to decline in middle age. By the time scientists are eminent and well-funded—this tends to happen in the final years of their careers—they are probably long past their creative prime.
Dean Simonton, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis argues that they benefit, at least in part, from their willingness to embrace novelty and surprise. Because they haven’t become “encultured,” or weighted down with too much conventional wisdom, they’re more willing to rebel against the status quo. After a few years in the academy, however, “creators start to repeat themselves, so that it becomes more of the same-old, same-old,” Mr. Simonton says.
This research has led some thinkers—such as the Stanford economist Paul Romer, who studies the role of new ideas in generating economic growth—to worry about the long-term implications of funding older scientists. “If we’re not careful, we could let our institutions…slowly morph over time so that old guys control more and more of what’s going on,” Mr. Romer says. “And the young people have a harder and harder time doing something really different, and that would be would be a bad thing for these processes of growth and change.”
But Mr. Simonton and others point out that increasing innovation is not simply a matter of funding the youngest researchers. While physics, math and poetry have always been dominated by their most inexperienced practitioners, other disciplines seem to benefit from middle age. Mr. Simonton suggests that people working in fields such as biology, history, novel-writing and philosophy might not peak until their late 40s. Interestingly, these differences in peak age appear to be cultural universals, with poets peaking before novelists in every major literary tradition, according to his research.
What accounts for these variations? Mr. Simonton suggests that they’re caused by intrinsic features of the disciplines. Those fields with a logically consistent set of principles, such as physics and chess, tend to encourage youthful productivity, since it’s relatively easy to acquire the necessary expertise. Because the essential facts can be quickly learned, and it usually doesn’t take that long to write a lyric poem, the precocious student is free to begin innovating at an early age. In contrast, fields that are loosely defined and full of ambiguous concepts, such as biology and history, lead to later peak productive ages. After all, before a researcher can invent a useful new idea, he or she must first learn an intimidating assortment of details.
The decline in creativity is far from inevitable, and many individuals have increased their creativity late in life by pursuing new intellectual challenges. The novelist Thomas Hardy became a full-time poet in his late 50s and wrote his greatest poem at the age of 61. The mathematician Paul Erdos was famous for hop-scotching around his discipline, and his productivity never flagged: He ended up co-writing nearly 1,500 scientific papers, making him one of the most prolific mathematicians of all time. Of course, quantity isn’t the only measure of creativity—and some argue that the more mature (in art, for example) do their best work later in their careers because they have greater wisdom and experience. The fall of the creative curve can be postponed.
A popular perception is that creativity and old age do not mix. Creativity is the domain of the young — and to certain extent this is true, yet not in the way that many of us would expect. Our decline in creativity does not start when we are 40 or 50. It starts around about the the age when we enter school. At around about the age of five, we are using about 80% of our creative potential. We invent daily – no matter than our inventions have been invented before, the fact is that we are innovating at a remarkable rate. The scary coda to this story is that by the age of twelve, our creative output has declined to about 2% of our potential, and it generally stays there for the rest of our lives. …
And then we start to learn the price of living in the modern world – which is conformity. To live with other people, you must follow their rules and values, which seem to be more about what you cannot do than what you can do. We are straight-jacketed and smart-stepped into doing what others do and not reinventing our worlds every day. When someone is being creative, they are also rather unpredictable, which can make living with them an uncertain and perhaps threatening experience. So we are taught to be polite and be nice to people, including not scaring them with our creative thoughts. By the time we leave full-time education, we are functional members of society, but our creative potential has been very largely stifled.
As adults, we do become less creative, but not in the traditional way. Our continued creative decline is more due to falling into a number of cognitive traps than the fading of old age. Where creativity does fade away is when we do not use it. ‘Use it or lose it’, as they say. One of the biggest culprits here is the simple pattern of human habit. Once we start doing something one way, we get comfortable with it and then do not change or vary it. We find the best route home and then we always drive that way, even if it is choked with traffic. We also get stuck in clichés and familiar conversations. Few of us read much (‘Too busy!’), fewer of us continue to study and fewer still innovate for the fun of it. …
Intelligence is, to some extent related to creativity, and brighter people generally are able to be more creative. Although a funny thing happens at around an IQ figure of 120, as described in Edward de Bono’s book, Serious Creativity. Above this level, creativity seems to drop off. This is quite probably due to these people falling into the expert trap. Another reason is the premature closure of quick thinking, where bright people ‘get it’ in seconds flat and hence stop any further divergent thinking.
The secret of life is staying creative. Keep your creative juices flowing and you will stay ahead of the pack. The best way of staving off creative ossification is to keep doing different things. Read different books and papers. Go to different places for your holidays. Talk to different people. Listen to them and seek to synergize and synthesize. Take every opportunity to regenerate your generative powers. …
People who have stayed creative through their lives are way above others, not only people on the final lap but also those much younger than them. With practice, you can get better at creativity, which puts a creatively active 60 year old streets ahead of a stultified 30 year old. Creativity even affects longevity. It has been proven that people who stay mentally active live longer even than those who stay physically active. If you go to the mental gym every day, then your alertness will keep you going longer.
Creative aging is for people that have successfully navigated mid-life and seek to find new meaning in each remaining life transition. Creative aging is an invitation to set aside the cultural aging stereotypes of past generations that were sometimes based on fear, isolation, and personal diminishment and embrace the second half of life with optimism, passion, creativity, and wisdom. Aging is something that happens as soon as we are born; growing old is a choice we make when we give up our dreams and passions. You are taking the first step in a journey that is deeply steeped in a sense of personal purpose and passion and a calling to go beyond what you have already created in your life.
The Five Principles of Creative Aging
- True self-expression – To make choices unencumbered by what others think. To see all the possibilities I can create. To live my life with clarity and courage.
- Spiritual awareness – To discover the richness of connection to a creative source outside/beyond myself. To take inventory of my qualities as a human being and seek ways to recreate myself. To allow my spiritual nature to guide my life choices.
- Conscious living – To have greater awareness of myself and my place in the world. To make conscious choices that steadily moves me toward my life purpose. To renew my interest in risk-taking. To maintain a positive outlook for my future.
- Humor and fun – To laugh easily at myself. To celebrate life. To see humor and mystery in things I have experienced in my life.
- Accepting mortality – To acknowledge the physical changes in my body and my mind. To claim the richness of my life as an active, creative and passionate gift. To explore the peace and freedom in each moment.
Reaching an age beyond 50 puts you squarely on the threshold of what could be the most dynamic and satisfying time of your life. This time can be as long as one-third of your lifetime. Longer than childhood, or adolescence, or child rearing and longer than many primary careers. Think about it! Unencumbered by child rearing and career-building this may actually be the first time in your life that you get to choose the life you want to live! As a society we are blessed with the gift of unprecedented longevity. Yet the majority of us have no idea how we want to spend these extra years. In fact, did you know that we typically put more thought in to our annual family vacation than we do for the last 25 to 30 productive and healthy years of our lives! For the vast majority of people the old model of aging and retirement are not suitable or desirable. So many of us will design new and unique models of what this time of life can be. Is this you?
In a single generation, the view of life after fifty has changed dramatically. Today’s society is shaped by unprecedented growth in the number of people living in their “golden years”, shifting patterns of work and home life, and advances in health care that offer the promise of longer, more active lives. In this fascinating, life-affirming book, Dr. Gene Cohen debunks harmful myths about aging and illuminates the biological and emotional foundations of creativity. He shoes how the unique combination of age, experience, and creativity can produce exciting inner growth and infinite potential for everyone. Interweaving history, scientific research, inspiring true-life stories, and his own fresh insights, Dr. Cohen takes us into the previously uncharted territory of human potential in the “second half” of life.
The author notes that studies of aging people find four aspects of creativity stand out:
- Creativity strengthens our morale in later life
- Creativity contributes to physical health as we age
- Creativity enriches relationships
- Creativity is our greatest legacy.
This book helps to discover the features of the Creative Age:
- We can actually increase the number of essential connections among brain cells including those for memory and response.
- Many sleep and mood disorders can be eliminated by stimulating the brain; sleep problems are not an inevitable part of aging or decline in brain function
- Vocabulary expands well into the eighties among people who continue to challenge themselves intellectually through reading, writing, and word games — having difficulty finding the right word is not inevitable
- Capitalizing on our creativity, and having a positive outlook and sense of well-being, boosts our immune systems.
Creativity need not decline as we grow older. If we choose, our later life can be a period of great creative productivity. Goethe completed Faust at 80, Titian painted masterpieces at 98, and Edison worked in his laboratory at 84. Gene D. Cohen, the author of The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, defines creativity as ‘our innate capacity for growth. It is the energy that allows us to think a different thought, express ourselves in a novel way. It enables us to view life as an opportunity for exploration, discovery, and an expanding sense of self… and it knows no age.’
The social landscape of our world is changing fast. The number of people aged 60 and above will have risen from 200 million in 1950 to 1.2 billion in 2025. This represents a six fold increase, from 8% of the world’s population in 1950 to 14% in 2025. In 1991 the United Nations Principles for Older Persons were adopted and subsequently the United Nations set Global Targets on Ageing, the aims of which were to ‘support national responses to the ageing of populations as well as to create an environment where the talents of older people find full expression and their care needs are met’.
The principles adopted by many countries as a result of The United Nations initiative sought to address many issues relating to ageism by:
- avoiding upper age limits for awards and schemes
- seeking opportunities to celebrate and profile the work of older artists
- giving greater support and a higher profile to participatory work with older people
- giving greater support to audience development initiatives geared at older people
- ensuring creative development courses meet the needs of older artists
Despite these and other initiatives that seek to improve the recognition and opportunities of societies towards older people’s creativity, older people’s status as artists in their own right remains largely ignored. Although there is no doubting the significance of our early brain development, research into the capacity for learning and creative development in the second half of life has shown that when the mind is challenged, the brain biologically responds in positive ways, regardless of age. The more we think and do, the more we contribute to vibrant cell life in the brain. …
The Four Phases of Creativity (as described by Gene D. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D.)
A look at developmental growth takes us into another part of the forest. Here we’re talking about changes at different points in the life cycle; changes in how we view and experience life from a combined psychological, emotional, and intellectual perspective. Just as you can’t teach a child to read before he or she is developmentally ready to read, certain qualities of mind and action in adulthood unfold at their own special time.
For instance, wisdom can’t be taught. It is a developmental mix of age, knowledge, and practical life experience, and the brain function that allows us to integrate those pieces to achieve insight, which we can then apply to a variety of life circumstances. That is why it is typically easier for an older adult to define problems and envision multiple strategies to deal with them. In adulthood we can take advantage of this developmental impetus to energise our creativity and jump-start our efforts to explore new ideas or make changes.
Four developmental phases (re-evaluation, liberation, summing-up, and encore) shape the way our creative energy grows and the way we express it in our later years. Like so much of the human condition, the timing and duration of these phases are fluid. While they typically unfold in sequence, there can be significant variation. They can overlap, and precise ages at which they occur vary. We all have the potential to experience each phase, but not every phase may be significantly expressed. For example, little re-evaluation activity and little liberation activation may occur, but you might have strong summing-up action. Each phase is defined by a combination of our chronological age, our history, and our circumstances.
- Re-evaluation Phase – In this phase, from our 50s on, our creative expression is intensified by a sense of crisis or quest. Although ‘midlife crisis’ is the term we so often hear, most adults are engaged in a search for ways to make their life and work more gratifying. The re-evaluation phase combines the capacity for insightful reflection with a powerful desire to create meaning in life.
- Liberation Phase – In this phase, typically from a person’s 60s to his or her 70s, creative endeavours are charged with the added energy of a new degree of personal freedom that comes psychologically from within us and situationally from retirement or from a change from full-time to part-time work. People tend to feel comfortable about themselves by this stage, knowing that if they make a mistake it won’t undo the image others have of them and, more important, won’t undo their image of themselves. Creative expression in this phase often includes translating a feeling of ‘if not now, when?’ into action. This provides a new context for experimentation, which is liberating and adds to the richness of life.
- Summing-up Phase – In this phase, from our 70s on, we feel more urgently the desire to find a larger meaning in the story of our lives through a process of looking back, summing up, and giving back. We also begin to see ourselves as “keepers of the culture,” and wish to contribute whatever we have gained in wisdom and wealth. Creative expression in this phase often includes autobiography and personal storytelling, philanthropy, community activism, and volunteerism.
- Encore Phase – This phase, in our 80s or older, reflects the energy of advancing age, in which creative expression is shaped by the desire to make yet further contributions on a personal or community level: to affirm life, to take care of unfinished business, and to celebrate one’s place in family, community, and even in the spiritual realm.
Harvard professor Howard Gardner, a noted expert on human development, describes two types of creativity: Creativity with a ‘big C’ and creativity with a ‘little c’. When Einstein developed the theory of relativity he was practising Creativity with a ‘big C’ and it changed an entire field of thought. On the other hand, creativity with a ‘little c’ emerges from the milieu of everyday life. Creativity with a ‘little c’ is not of less importance than that with a ‘big C’, although it is usually of less notoriety and influence. ‘Ordinary people’s’ creativity can be as powerful and enriching as those who influence all our futures by their creative efforts.
The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, April 5, 2000. Amazon Review By Prof. J.R.Staude “John-Raphael Staude” (San Diego, CA)
This is one of the best books I have read on the subject of Creativity in Later Life. I recommend it heartily. Dr. Cohen, M.D. & Ph.D. has become the acknowledged leader in this field with his brilliant synthesis of his 25 years of experience working with older adults as a geriatric physician and creativity researcher. “We need a new frame of reference in which to picture ourselves growing and recognize how the influence of inner resources and life circumstances can present us with opportunities to revive our lives in meaningful and satisfying ways,” Cohen maintains.
His experience with his patients and his studies of aging and creativity in the arts led him to revise Erik Erikson’s model of adult development in the later years. He divided Erikson’s final stages of generativity and integrity into four developmental phases which he claims shape the way our creative energy grows and the way we express it. Each phase, he says, is shaped by our chronological age, our history, and our circumstances. And each phase is characterized by changes in how we view and experience life in a combined psychological, emotional and intellectual sense. …
In the Liberation phase creative endeavors are shaped with the added energy of a new degree of personal freedom that comes both psychologically from within us and externally through retirement. Our creative juices may be mobilized by the thought “If not now, when?” People tend to feel pretty comfortable about themselves at this time , knowing that if they should make a mistake it won’t undo the image others have of them, and more importantly, it won’t undo the image they have of themselves. This psychological and emotional understanding provides a new context for experimentation, and retirement often provides a new feeling of finally having free time to try something new. Both these inner and outer elements are liberating and additive. This new sense of available Time and personal Liberty in later life, combined with significant life experience, produces new feelings of freedom, courage, and confidence commonly described by men and women of advanced age. Here, too, contrary to negative stereotypes, the feeling of being more free allows older individuals to experiment, to take a risk, to try something new.
Most of us, as we head into our sixties, have become more comfortable with who we are. If we make a mistake while trying something new, it doesn’t shatter our self-image. So while someone in his twenties may not dare to take an art class for fear of looking incompetent, doing something unfamiliar, a person in his forties or beyond will be much less concerned with appearances, and more interested in experimenting with new ways to learn. Cohen’s research underscores the adventurous nature of adults in this liberated phase of development. His investigations show that older adults who are not handicapped by extenuating circumstances such as poor health or financial constraints–are just as venturesome as their younger counterparts. This greater freedom and courage helps explain why throughout history so many older adults in their late sixties, seventies or beyond have assumed the role of shapers and shakers of society. One thinks of Socrates, Copernicus, Titian, Montaigne,Goethe, Rembrandt, Newton, Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Simone de Beauvoir, May Sarton, Eleanor Roosevelt, as people who rose to greatness in their later years.
In the advancing years of late life, in what Cohen calls the Encore Stage, there is a desire–a developmental urgency, really–to affirm life in a number of ways. It might be through completing a creative work,or the resolution of a longstanding problem, a statement waiting to be said, or the right thing to do that had been on hold for years. The encore phenomenon taps the inner pressure that many feel to do or say something before it’s too late. The phrase applies strongly to the field of music, reminding us of how many noted musical achievements have come late or at the end of a musicain’s or composer’s career or life cycle–like the late works of Verdi, Liszt, and Stravinsky. This is the time of advancing age, in which creative expression is shaped by the desire to make strong, lasting contributions on a personal or community level, to affirm life, take care of unfinished business, and celebrate one’s own contribution. This phase typically occurs among those in their eighties or older.
The multidisciplinary Dr. Cohen cites some fascinating biological studies of the the brain that reveal that between one’s early fifties and late seventies there is actually an increase in both the number and length of branches from individual brain cells in different parts of the brain involved with higher intellectual functioning. These branching changes compensate for brain cell loss that can occur over time. They also give further evidence of the plasticity or modifiability of the brain as it ages. Something even more interesting about these neuro-biological findings is that they directly correspond timewise to the unfolding of the above human potential phases pointing to a possible biological connection to the changes in human development in the second half of life. …
The significance of these human potential phases is that they set the state for a new creative thrust at different points in our lives. Our awareness of these phases can help close the gap between recognizing our potential and actually harnessing it. Knowing that the natural course of development can bring us closer to tapping our creative potential at different times can provide a much needed measure of confidence or faith which we sometimes need to begin, change or energize our creative efforts. I have only scratched the surface of this book, but this summary should be sufficient to indicate its importance. I recommend that everyone interested in new discoveries about human behavior, creativity and longevity read it.
According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.” A more concise definition is “bringing something new of value into existence.” The etymology of “creativity,” however, is what resonates for those of us who are passionate about embedding the arts—or creativity—in the lives of older adults and the communities in which they live. The word comes from the Latin creatus, which means “to have grown.” Older adults have grown in knowledge and experience, and we should value them for what they contribute to each of us individually and to our communities.
The arts are the key. They enable us to communicate effectively within and between generations, making sense of and reconciling life experiences, understanding and celebrating the present, and creating a legacy for the future. They also allow us to experiment without fear of failing—to be challenged—and to succeed in learning new skills and discovering latent ones. Strengthening connections among older adults, family, friends, residents, and caregivers, the arts create a sense of community in which each person’s contribution is respected. In sum, the arts enhance quality of life.
No matter what their age or their physical or mental ability, older adults can and should participate in the arts. And not just any arts, but high-quality, participatory arts programs conducted over a significant period by professional teaching artists. Many leaders in the arts, healthcare, and aging services industries share this belief, but too few have created or sustained effective arts and aging programs. Now is the time to be part of the process, part of the solution: the “beyond bingo” generation is here.
This resource is designed for leaders and program staff in public, nonprofit, and for-profit arts and humanities organizations and institutions and in healthcare and aging services organizations, corporations, and institutions. It is intended to increase the expertise of those who direct existing community arts and aging programs and to give others in the community the tools to take the first step—and keep going. This information will also benefit:
- Teaching artists who want to work with older adults
- Leaders and staff of lifelong learning organizations and programs (such as higher education) who are interested in intentionally including the arts in their curriculums
- Private- and public-sector funders who need to define effective practices before creating or revising guidelines
The Arts and Aging Toolkit will help readers:
- Appreciate why this is a pivotal time for arts and aging in the United States
- Understand that older adults continue to learn and benefit from education
- Learn about the aging services field
- Learn about the arts field and community arts
- Discuss the benefits of professionally conducted, participatory arts and aging programs with a variety of stakeholders (elected officials, funders, partners, and policymakers)
- Design, implement, market, support, evaluate, and sustain these programs for older adults
- Find and train teaching artists who are directly responsible for delivering programs
- Locate advice, training, and assistance
Enhancing quality of life by embedding the arts in the lives of older adults and the communities in which they live is more than a goal. It is one facet of a broader movement in the arts and aging services fields: a push toward designing or redesigning community so that the infrastructure works harmoniously to support everyone’s needs as defined by all community members.
Chapters 1 through 5 provide the background to help you design and implement an arts and aging program. These chapters explain the context for arts and aging today; the benefits of arts participation for older adults; issues, infrastructure, and opportunities in the aging services and arts fields; and effective practices for arts and aging programs.
Chapters 6 through 9 offer practical, how-to guidance for program design and implementation; program evaluation; and public awareness. These chapters illustrate important concepts with concrete examples from successful programs. You can learn something from all of them, whether they are focused on well or frail elders, people who live in the community or in a residential facility, or older adults with dementia.
We have designed this toolkit for a variety of experience and interest levels. Many readers will find something of interest in every chapter, and others will browse the sections that are most relevant to them. There is a roadmap to make the toolkit work for you: If you’re looking for a reason to start an arts program for older adults, the older adults quoted throughout this toolkit offer eloquent testimony.
The National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA) was founded in 2001 and is dedicated to fostering an understanding of the vital relationship between creative expression and healthy aging and to developing programs that build on this understanding.
The process of aging is a profound experience marked by increasing physical and emotional change and a heightened search for meaning and purpose. Creative expression is important for older people of all cultures and ethnic backgrounds, regardless of economic status, age, or level of physical, emotional, or cognitive functioning. The arts can serve as a powerful way to engage elders in a creative and healing process of self-expression, enabling them to create works that honor their life experience.
The “graying” of America – being heralded by many as the second American Revolution – promises dramatic changes in the field of aging. Arguably, one of the most profound changes is a new way of seeing older adults: moving from a “deficit” approach that stresses losses to an “asset” approach that stresses strengths, potential and achievements.
Dr. Gene Cohen, author of The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, asserts, “There is no denying the problems that accompany aging. But what has been universally denied is the potential. The ultimate expression of potential is creativity.” It is Dr. Cohen’s groundbreaking research that found a direct link between creative expression and healthy aging.
The NCCA uses the following objectives to strive to fulfill its mission
- To evaluate arts and aging programs to identify and promote best practices.
- To distill the lessons of model programs in order to create technical assistance materials and training programs for others to use.
- To support the replication of best practice models through existing or new arts and aging programs and coalitions throughout the country.
- To serve as a clearinghouse for the exchange of information and resources, such as national conferences and national e newsletter.
- To create and maintain a database of such programs as a resource to others.
- To support research and policy toward developing the field.
The NCCA assembled some suggestions for getting more involved with the arts. This includes some sources of further information and assistance.
Want to get involved in the arts, but don’t know where to start? Maybe you haven’t played in instrument in 30 years, or perhaps you have never picked up a paint brush. Either way, this page will provide resources to help you find arts programs in your community, as well as provide some best practices to show you what kind of programs are out there.
Quick Tips to Spark your Creativity!
Do you want to be creative but don’t know where to begin?
- Check your local Arts Council or Arts Agency. For a state list visit the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies to also connect with your local arts council.
- Check out the community centers, community colleges and universities in your area who have classes just for adults from photography to computers.
Starting with the NCCA’s list, I compiled the following list of organizations that connect people with creative opportunities in their communities:
ArtAge Senior Theatre Resource Center – ArtAge celebrates older performers, connecting you with leading edge companies, professionals and the plays and books that make them successful.
Americans for the Arts – Americans for the Arts is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America. It is dedicated to representing and serving local communities and creating opportunities for every American to participate in all forms of the arts.
Center on Aging, Health, and Humanities, George Washington University – The Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at the George Washington University in Washington, DC has been very active in establishing new programs focused on understanding, studying and promoting creativity that accompanies aging. The center was established by the late Gene D. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D. The Center coordinates a research program focused on creativity and aging. In addition, the Center houses the Creativity Discovery Corps.
Creativity Matters – In researching the wonderful stories about people making a difference, I found remarkable profiles of older, dynamically creative adults. I saw them as great role models and wanted to share their stories. So in reading and discovering, talking and surfing, I found a plethora of programs and research swelling up from universities to small non profits supporting aging and creativity. And that’s when I began to write Creativity Matters as a way to inform and inspire.
Healing Power of Art – The purpose of “Celebrate The Healing Power of ART”, founded by Renee Phillips, Director of Manhattan Arts International, is to Promote ART and all aspects of CREATIVITY and its vital importance to healing individuals and the planet. Our aim is to offer exceptional healing Artists and Art and Healing organizations worldwide the recognition they deserve.
Kairos Dance Theater – Kairos’ mission is to share the joy of dance and unleash its power to nurture and heal. They believe there are many ways of dancing, and that each person has his or her own dance to share and story to tell. Kairos uses dance and storytelling to create a sense of community and well-being in participants of all ages and walks of life with dancers from age 7-98 years-old. Kairos has created an award winning programs, “The Dancing Heart,” which vitally engages frail elders, including those with mid-to-late stage Alzheimer’s.
The MoMA Alzheimer’s Project – The MoMA Alzheimer’s Project is the nationwide expansion of MoMA’s art and dementia programs, including Meet Met at MoMA, the Museum’s outreach program for individuals living with Alzheimer’s Disease and their caregivers. Funded by MetLife Foundation, the project broadens the reach of these programs through the development of resources that can be used by museums, assisted-living facilities, and other community organizations serving people with dementia and their caregivers.
New Horizons Music – New Horizons Music Programs provide an entry point to music making for adults, including those with no musical experience at all and those who were active in school music programs but have been inactive for a long time. Many adults would like an opportunity to learn music in a group setting similar to that offered in schools, but the last entry point in most cases was elementary school. New Horizons has over 100 bands throughout the country and Canada as well as music camps around the US. Find one near you!
National Guild for Community Arts Education – Founded in 1937, the National Guild is the sole national service organization for community arts education providers with a member network of over 400 organizations. The Guild is the sole national service organization for community arts education providers. Their vision of a nation where all Americans have access to arts learning opportunities throughout their life spans remains constant. Their dynamic member network of arts education organizations includes community schools of the arts, arts and cultural centers, preparatory programs, and arts education divisions of performing arts companies, museums, parks and recreation departments, and others.
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) – The OLLI at the University of Southern Maine (USM) serves as the national center for the current network of 122 lifelong learning institutes throughout the nation. Each Osher Institute reflects the culture of its own university and its learning community.
Kenneth A. Picerne Foundation – The Kenneth A. Picerne Foundation’s Artist Outreach Project supports senior artists who give back to their communities through educational and therapeutic services in community nonprofit agencies serving children, youth and the elderly. The Foundation is a social entrepreneurial operating foundation. As an operating foundation, they maintain a high level of engagement in the programs we create, manage and evaluate. The Foundation’s mission is to develop innovative programs that promote human development. These programs provide unique opportunities for individuals to fulfill their potential.
Resource Guide for Creating Community in Later Life – Second Journey is among a small number of emerging organizations helping birth a new vision of the rich possibilities of the second half of life. That vision sees the Longevity Revolution — the dividend of extra years which in this past century has extended life expectancy by 30-plus years — not as a demographic time bomb threatening the social safety net, but as an unprecedented historic opportunity.
StoryCorps Memory Loss Initiative – StoryCorps launched an initiative to reach out to people affected by memory loss. Their aim is to support and encourage people with memory loss to share their stories. The project is guided by an Advisory Board of nationally recognized leaders in the field of memory loss, and all interviews are facilitated by the specially trained staff.
TimeSlips Storytelling Project – The TimeSlips creative storytelling method opens storytelling to everyone by replacing the pressure to remember with encouragement to imagine. The project aims to inspire people with dementia to hone and share the gifts of their imaginations; inspire others to see beyond the loss and to recognize the strength of people with dementia; and to improve the quality of life of people with dementia and those who care for them.