That was the message of a free webinar that Patterson and Anunsen, co-founders of mindRAMP, gave yesterday entited Creativity Matters: The sciences of creativity and cognitive enhancement, sponsored by the National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA). That's the D.C.-based organization linked to the late Gene Cohen whose research at George Washington University on creativity and art have changed the way scientists are looking at the link between creative activities and brain functions.
Cohen launched his 2005 study to see if the decline of cognitive abilities in the elderly could be slowed by enrolling them in creative activities, such as writing, dancing, singing and painting, Patterson and Anunsen pointed out. Much to everyone's surprise (including Cohen), the study indicated that such activities under the supervision of professional artists not only stopped deterioration. It actually strengthened cognitive functions. The brain grew.
Creative activities give your brain a "cross-training workout," engaging you mentally, physically and socially, say Patterson and Anunsen. The brain is plastic, but you have to do something to stimulate the plasticity. It's there but you have to activate it.
Patterson and Anunsen's mindRAMP company helps people do just that by working to develop brain wellness education programs and services. During the webinar, they paid homage to several other programs working in the area of creativity and aging:
- The Minnesota Creative Arts and Aging network www.mncaan.net/index.html
- StageBridge, the oldest senior theatre company in America (photo above) www.stagebridge.org
- TimeSlips, a creative storytelling project http://www.timeslips.org/
The two also directed participants to the NCCA website's "Beautiful Minds" campaign http://www.beautiful-minds.com/, a national photo essay exhibit celebrating men and women 55 and older who are doing beautiful things with their mind regardless of age. During the seminar we took a couple of "Brain Breaks. The brain lags after 20 minutes, our hosts explained, and needs more blood to function at peak capacity. While participants were encouraged to get up and move around (or, if they were wheelchair-bound, to wave their arms and stretch), our hosts quoted from seniors from the Beautiful Mind project. Creativity is about doing something else, leaving the past for something new, our hosts pointed out. They were particularly struck by the words of Suzanne Knode, who lives at the Burbank Senior Artists Colony http://vimeo.com/11874101:
"I think it takes letting go of the past and letting go of what you did before you became a senior... Allow yourself not to be afraid."