Health Careers >> Browse Articles >> Arts & Humanities in Healthcare


Expressive Arts Therapy for Elderly Patients

Expressive Arts Therapy for Elderly Patients

Brandon Thomas /

“The first 11 weeks were so chaotic, kids were literally hiding under tables and spinning around in circles,” Hall recalls, then whispers: “Then all of a sudden they start coming together as a group. We wrote a play. We learned songs. We wore costumes. We no longer talked about Steven hiding under tables. We we’re saying, ‘O.K., what role do you think Steven should play?’ ”

Today, as many as seventy universities across the country offer arts therapy programs. Once considered a dubious science at best, expressive arts therapy is now understood to be an important tool in the therapeutic process. Many researchers believe that this is due in large part to the neurological effects of music and dance. Rhythm stimulates activity in parts of the brain that control cognitive function. By promoting communication and facilitating the development of motor skills and synaptic reorganization, music and dance therapy can foster rehabilitation after a stroke or severe brain injury.

Music therapy is also proven to produce calming effects on the body and mind, slowing blood pressure and decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. Because emotional wellbeing plays an important part in overall healing, expressive arts therapy is likewise an important part of the healing process. Dancing and making art and music also have a social impact that helps individuals to feel confident to express themselves and connect with others around them. Music therapists call this the “ripple effect,” a term coined by Mercedes Pavlicevic and Gary Ansdell to describe music’s ability to naturally attract people and create larger social contexts.

Dr. Mike Crawford, professor of Psychological Medicine at Imperial College, who studies the medical effects of creative therapies, says that at times when patients are struggling with illness they “may find it difficult to express themselves using words, but through the skill of the therapist it may be possible to help people interact…in a way that is constructive, creative and enjoyable.”

Whether battling illness or not, just about anyone can benefit from the transformative power of art.

AllHealthcare School Finder

Save time in your search for a degree program. Use AllHealthcare's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.