There are three ingredients that serve as a robust tonic for the aging brain: newness or novelty, complexity and problem solving… The fine arts have all these. And more. They also have meaning and passion. People can be passionate about golf, but the arts offer the opportunity for transcendent experiences.
– Francine Toder
Will Barnet, the American painter, had it right, “Great work can come at any stage of your life.” I mean, who says just because you’re getting older, you can’t try something new? In fact, trying something new could have life-changing benefits. Don’t believe me?
Well according to Francine Toder, a recently retired clinical psychologist and author of The Vintage Years: Finding Your Inner Artist After Sixty, “Recent discoveries in neuroscience confirm that the brain, even beyond age 60 — if it’s fed a diet of complexity, newness and problem-solving — can continuously develop throughout life.”
Toder told Angela Hill of the Oakland Tribune that pursuing the fine arts later in life — activities that involve problem-solving and complex tasks — is known to help stimulate the aging brain. But that age just might be good for the art, too.
“Lifestyle and natural changes in brain and hormonal functioning beyond age 60 actually facilitate mastery of the fine arts in ways that elude younger people,” she said.
It’s in our later years when we have the greatest emotional stability, writes Hill. There’s increased calmness, patience and tolerance for frustration, which can be a big help when trying to learn something new.
In many ways, exploring the arts can become a change of pace.
Take Andrea “Andy” Cooper of Phoenix, MD, for example. The 58-year-old spent 30 years working as a publication designer and never seriously considered pursuing a second career. However, in 2005 Cooper faced a number of physical pains that caused discomfort in the office but led her to return to an old love: the arts.
For the last eight years, Cooper, who grew up in a musical family and went to art school, has been working as an artist facilitator, writes Jennifer Davis from nextavenue. “She spends three days a week as an art therapist at Mercy Medical Center in downtown Baltimore and the University of Maryland Medical Center at St. Joseph in Towson, MD, helping patients with their art projects while they’re getting IV treatments.”
Overall, maintaining any kind of activity — from golf and knitting to crossword puzzles and computer skills — is highly beneficial as we age. But there may just be something more that the fine arts have to offer. Why not look into it and see?