It seems lately I am often hearing about the changing landscape of lifelong learning (defined here as older adult non-formal learning) as we come to better understanding the positive impacts of intellectual and creative engagement later in life. This was pointed out in previous LEARN Council blog posts. Linda Maurice recounted a reassignment of lifelong learning at her university from the geriatrics division to community education, affirming lifelong learning’s holistic value above and beyond its medical impact. Sandra von Doetinchem emphasized the shifting demographics of our aging population and the imperative to accommodate older adults in their final years, who may encounter greater barriers to learning. Adding to the changing landscape of lifelong learning is the increasing body of evidence demonstrating the healing power of art.
While lifelong learning certainly encompasses all subjects, mounting research and evidence has focused on the psychological, social, cognitive, and physiological benefits of exposure to the arts, including both creative expression (i.e. making art) and attending arts and cultural experiences. The 2017 National Endowment for the Arts publication “Staying Engaged: Health Patterns of Older Americans Who Participate in the Arts: An Analysis Based on the Health and Retirement Study” examined longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). The HRS tracked health profiles of a nationally representative sample of older adults age 55 years and older from 2002 to 2014 and recorded their self-reported arts engagement patterns from 2014. The data demonstrates the power of the arts to combat hypertension and cognitive and physical decline. Respondents to the study also reported that the arts help them stay active and engaged and socialize with family and friends.