Painting for Seniors: Embrace Your Inner Picasso and Make New Friends

The doors swung open, and the students swept in.

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Paintbrushes met eager hands, eyes got wider, and faces smiled brighter as Arts Etobicoke’s Seniors Art Program reopened at Toronto’s Cloverdale Mall following the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People showed up with bells on,” raved Sonya Young, art classes program assistant, who coordinates the visual arts and crafts workshops for adults over 55.

Young is no stranger to the benefits of crafts and painting for seniors, and the joy of working extensively with older adults. As a photographer, mixed-media visual artist, writer, and tutor, she has also led older students on picture-taking excursions within the community. She recommends art and photography programs especially to older adults living alone.

3 Benefits of Art, Crafts, Photography, and Painting for Seniors

1. Socialize and relax with new friends.

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Many older adults are lonely. When asked why people come to class, Young said, “It’s isolation, across the board.”

Art, photography, and painting relieve stress and foster connections with peers. “Even if you live with family,” said Young, “there’s that need to talk with people outside of your general circle and just be free to socialize.” She believes having a scheduled activity to look forward to every week improves participants’ mental health.

As a photography teacher, Young sometimes took her students to snap pictures at local businesses. They would talk with the owners and later post stories about the day’s adventures on social media. “It encompassed everything from the walking, the socializing, and learning to use the camera,” said Young, citing companionship as a major motivator.

“You’re part of a community,” she said. “People help each other.” This could include sharing new ideas or asking classmates, “Where’s the best coffee place around here?”

2. Unleash your creativity and grow your skills.

By taking part in art and painting classes for seniors, you build new skills, flex your creative muscles, and gain a sense of accomplishment and personal growth. Studies of older adults have linked creative expression with improved well-being.

No special abilities are required. “You don’t have to be an expert photographer or artist to join in,” said Young. “There are all levels.” At the Seniors Art Program, participants may get acquainted with watercolors, acrylic painting, cardboard model-building, phone photography, basket-weaving, and more. “They leave the program most weeks with a new piece they enjoy and are proud of,” said Young.

They also receive classroom instruction. “Learning new techniques,” said Young. “We talk about the colour wheel and colour theory and different types of paints, or they may ask, ‘Can I use this to glue this on?’”

Experienced artists are also welcome. “There are people that have a [bachelor’s degree] in arts, and they want a set space that they may not have at home—or it’s just easier to say, ‘This is my time, and I’m going to work on my artwork now.’”

3. Improve dexterity, cognitive functioning, and memory.

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For seniors, painting and artwork enhance hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. The physical activity involved can be especially important for older adults with limited mobility or movement issues.

The brain also benefits. In one study, creative older adults were 73% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. “Art is also solving problems,” said Young about how students sharpen their minds. “Like ‘Where should I put this house—here next to the tree?’”

“Most participants are very active at home,” she said, “but we do have a few people that may come in wheelchairs or have early-onset dementia. It helps them to have something concrete to physically do and that also turns into thinking about what they’re doing.”

“You’re holding the paintbrush, you’re looking at something, you’re rendering it in the way that you want to, you’re thinking things through,” said Young. With regular physical and mental stimulation, we keep our bodies and brains healthy and decrease the likelihood we’ll need memory care.

Painting for Seniors: Where to Find Art Classes

Sonya Young8 Home Downsizing in TorontoIf you or an older adult you know wants to try an art, crafts, or photography class, many resources are available.

Young suggested checking with older adult centres for free or discounted programs. She also named school boards, non-profit arts centres, and the Ontario Culture Days Festival. You can also try community centres.

Retirement Communities Have Art Programs

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Are you thinking of downsizing into a retirement community? “Most retirement homes will have some sort of arts-related program,” said Young. For example, in her mother-in-law’s senior-living community, residents can paint or do crafts every day. “It’s definitely a core part of retirement living.”

Classes Have Something for Everyone

Sonya Young12 Home Downsizing in TorontoThe Seniors Art Program includes students from many cultural backgrounds. Most participants are women, said Young. She hopes to see more men come out to enjoy the camaraderie, adding that “men are even more isolated than women.”

Those who join appreciate the program’s many benefits. “Everyone leaves with a smile on their face,” said Young. “They are just so happy to make new friends.”

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