Staying Engaged

Health Patterns of Older Americans Who Participate in the Arts

Kumar B. Rajan and Rekha S. Rajan

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This report accomplishes several purposes for contemporary research into the arts’ value for older Americans. Not least, it responds to challenges raised by a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) research workshop on the arts and aging.

Staying Engaged examines data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative sample of older adults (in this case, aged 55 years and older) who are tracked longitudinally. In 2014, for the first time, the HRS included a special survey supplement—a “Culture and Arts” module—asking subjects about their arts experiences in the last year, and about their general attitudes toward the arts. Accordingly, authors Rekha and Kumar Rajan are able to compare self-reported health outcomes for older adults who engaged in one or more types of arts participation (or none at all) in 2014. The longitudinal study design also permits the Rajans to analyze the 2002-2014 health profiles of older adults who, in 2014, reported varying levels of arts participation.

Apart from mining a new data source for information about the arts patterns and health outcomes of older Americans, the Rajans explore differences among subjects who only attended the arts, who also or only created art, or who did no arts activities whatsoever. In brief, the Rajans find that older adults who both created and attended art in 2014 reported better health outcomes that year (lower rates of hypertension and greater cognitive and physical functioning) than did adults who neither created nor attended art. Subjects active in both art categories—creating and attending—also experienced slower rates of decline in cognitive and physical functioning over the last decade, and less growth in hypertension, compared with other older adults. Greater frequency of arts attendance and arts creation also were positively linked to health outcomes.

Source: Report Preface