Could creativity be the secret to ageing well?

Jan 16 2020

Australia’s ageing population faces many challenges, and a decline in brain and cognitive functioning is just one of these. A team of researchers from the University of Newcastle and the Brain and Mental Health program at HMRI is exploring how engagement in arts activities (eg music and dance) can help maintain the brain healthy and reduce age-related cognitive decline.

Research has shown that engagement in the creative arts not only increases our emotional wellbeing and social connectedness, it actually changes the structure and function of the brain. Professor Frini Karayanidis and Dr Michelle Kelly from the School of Psychology, together with Dr Helen English from the School of Creative Industries are working across the STEM and Arts disciplines to identify how community-based programs can be targeted to promote healthy ageing.

Professor Karayanidis and her team are looking for participants aged over 60 to participate in a research project which will identify the level of engagement in creativity activities in Australian older adults and its association with cognitive and emotional wellbeing. The research is phone-based, with questions aimed at assessing people’s creative and physical activities now and throughout life.

There are numerous creative arts programs available for people who want to learn a new skill or just become more socially engaged (from salsa classes to ukelele groups). These make people feel happy and active, but we don’t know whether they have any short-term or long-term benefits on brain and mental health.

Given the growing interest in using such creative activities therapeutically, there is increasing availability of professionally-designed programs that are implemented within rehabilitation programs in people with stroke, dementia, etc. However, few programs have been implemented more broadly in healthy middle-aged or older adults to promote healthy brain and cognition, reduce age-related decline, and delay or prevent the onset of dementia.

It is hoped that this pilot program will allow the team to expand the project into a nationwide collaboration with researchers from the University of Melbourne and Hunter-based researchers with a range of areas of expertise. The team is currently recruiting for a nationwide study, where people over 60 are required to answer a few simple questions over the phone about their past and present experience with creative and physical activities and to do a few simple cognitive tasks.

To find out more, or get involved, call 02 4921 7161 or email