NEW research which aims to find out if the arts can improve health and wellbeing in later life is being carried out by scientists at Newcastle University.
The healing nature of the creative arts has long been debated and recent research has linked them to improved wellbeing as people get older.
However, creativity is notoriously difficult to study and academics don’t fully understand why singing and painting, for example, may be beneficial.
The researchers involved in the Ageing Creatively study want to close an existing gap in the field of arts and health as few previous studies exploring the relationship between the arts and wellbeing explain or test their methods.
The team has recruited 60 participants, aged 55 and over, to help them find out more and, in particular, if playing an active rather than passive role in the arts is more beneficial.
They have taken part in workshops based around creative writing, studying short stories, creating a piece of art, viewing art and listening to music and singing.
Professor Eric Cross, dean of cultural affairs at Newcastle University who is leading the project, said: “There is a growing body of work that shows keeping your mind active as you get older is good for you.
“This project has been designed to answer questions such as: Does writing a story make more of a difference than simply reading one? Or does listening to music have more or less of an effect compared to singing in a choir?”
The 18-month pilot project is supported by the Newcastle Centre for Literary Arts, Newcastle City Libraries, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and The Sage Gateshead.
The research comes at a time when the arts in Newcastle are under threat by the city council, with libraries facing closure and theatres and museums facing cuts in funding.
Professor Tom Kirkwood, associate dean of ageing at Newcastle University, said: “Newcastle University is world renowned for its research into the effects of ageing, but this is the first time that we will have looked at the role of creativity in wellbeing on later life.
“There are other studies which have looked at this but a common problem is that they have not been rigorously tested or explained their methods of investigation.
“One key part of this study will be to develop robust methods of measuring the effect creativity has and the best way to measure it.
“Once we have done this then we can start to answer important questions such as should creative activities be prescribed by GPs or be offered by local councils as part of social programmes?”
Lessons learned from this pilot study will be used to create a larger study that explores the issues further. It will also support the existing good practice of community arts organisations and cultural venues in the North East and across the country.
The research has been funded from the Research Councils UK initiative on Lifelong Health and Wellbeing, led by the Medical Research Council.