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Health Challenges and The Arts

Participation in the arts have been shown to be an innovative and effective way to help those living with health challenges. Along with programs that promote creative expression, the Creative Arts Therapies (Art, Music, Dance/Movement, Drama Therapies) provide trained therapists who are experts in using the arts in meeting the clinical needs of those living with challenging health conditions. 

In this section you will find information on local community programs that serve older adults with health challenges, the creative arts therapies, common health problems and the arts, tips for Creative Caregiving, the arts at End of Life and the latest research on this topic.

Utah Based Community Arts Programs for Those With Health Challenges

Dementia Friendly Activities

A virtual group for those living with dementia to engage and connect, sponsored by Jewish Family Service.

The Gleeful Choir

A chorus for those living with dementia and their care-partners, sponsored by Jewish Family Service.   Now Online!

Music and Memory

An innovative and effective tool providing personalized iPods to older adults living with dementia, cognitive decline, and other chronic illness. Sponsored by Jewish Family Service.

Grey Matters

Sponsored by the University of Utah Departments of Modern Dance and Physical Therapy, Grey Matters: Stretching the Mind, Body, and Soul through Dance provides participants living with Parkinson Disease, their immediate family members, and caregivers and opportunity to enjoy the many pleasures and possibilities dance and music offer as a form of symptomatic therapy.

Senior Centers offer a variety of classes and activities, many of which can be helpful when dealing with health challenges. Check out the calendar of a senior center near you!

State Wide Senior Centers

Virtual Senior Center: Utah Adult and Aging services offers this online hub of classes and activities, with many offerings that address those living with health challenges. Check out their schedule!


Creative Arts Therapies

What is the difference between an art activity that is therapeutic, and the creative arts therapies? In creative engagement, the goal is to create art. Therapeutic consequences will naturally follow.  In therapy, the goal is to address specific clinical needs, and therapists use targeted and evidence based art interventions as tools to address those needs. 

How do you know which you need? If you are looking to experience creative expression, and enjoy the therapeutic benefits that naturally follow, become  involved in generalized creative activities.  If you have specific problems that require the expertise of a trained therapist, seek out a creative arts therapist who is trained in the modality that you feel best fits your needs.


Common Health Challenges and the Creative Arts Therapies

Each art form has a unique set of attributes that can be used to address a variety of symptoms found in disease. In addition to making positive impacts on physical symptoms, most diseases can take an emotional toll. The arts are an excellent way for people to work through the physical, mental and emotional impact of disease. Click here for a comprehensive review!

Chronic Illness

As people age, health issues tend to increase. Approximately 85% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition and 72% have at least two chronic health conditions (NIH, 2019). Chronic illness and mental health have a cyclical relationship: chronic illness often impacts one’s mental health, and poor mental health often contributes to chronic illness. Engaging in creativity has been shown to have a positive influence on both fronts, making it an effective approach to holistic health


With the challenges in cognition that come with dementia, it is often found that the arts remain accessible in many ways, bringing a sense of control, creativity, success, communication and interaction.

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s disease brings a myriad of physical challenges, as well as emotional and cognition concerns. Research is strong for the effective use of the arts in combating some of the difficulties of Parkinson’s disease such as gait, vocal strength, balance, coordination and emotional support.


When neural pathways are damaged by brain injury such as stroke, the arts can offer alternative pathways to re-learn functional behavior.  Speech, gait, range of motion, strength, coordination, right or left neglect are some of the concerns that are being addressed through the arts. In addition to these functional issues, the arts can provide the emotional support needed when dealing with challenges that come with stroke or any brain damage.


Though not a normal part of aging, depression can be a problem for some older adults. It has been shown that participation in the arts affects our neurochemical makeup, enhances self-concept, sense of mastery, communication of emotions, creative expression, cognition and social connection – all of which contribute improvements in emotional states.

Heart Disease

Engagement in the arts generates positive change in our physical and emotional states - change that is beneficial for those living with heart disease. Music, drawing, and writing are just a few practices that can reduce stress and increase relaxation, which in turn has been shown to have a positive impact on heart health.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Singing, music-assisted exercise and dance have been shown to be an effective way to help manage lung health for those living with lung disease.


Many older adults experience frequent pain. Whether the cause is illness, surgery, injury, wounds, treatments or any other chronic conditions, pain decreases quality of life. The consequences of pain can impair physical healing, increase depression and anxiety, decrease social connection, impair cognition, reduce sleep, and cause behavioral changes. The arts can be used as a nonpharmacological approach to pain management


Creative Caregiving

The UCOA does not have any affiliation with any of the following products. We are merely sharing the resources.

Creative caregiving is an approach to caregiving that recognizes and utilizes creativity as a way for care partners to communicate, grow, express, nurture their relationship, succeed, contribute and enjoy life! Both caregivers and care-recipients can be enriched by creative engagement. Here you will find several resources to help integrate creativity into caregiving. Take a look at this comprehensive review here.


The Creative Caregiving Guide 

This guide is filled with short video lessons that guide users through hands-on learning experiences, from paintings, poetry, music, storytelling, to drama and dance exercises. It is specially designed for family and professional caregivers of adults who live with Alzheimer’s disease and related cognitive disorders.


Creative Care: A Revolutionary Approach to Dementia and Elder Care

In this book, author Anne Basting pioneers a radical change in how we interact with older loved ones, especially those experiencing dementia, as she introduces a proven method that uses the creative arts to bring light and joy to the lives of elders.

The Alzheimer's Creativity Project: The Caregiver's Ultimate Guide to a Good Day; Communication and Activities in the World of Alzheimer's

By Jytte Fogh Lokvig, This book contains creative activities for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias in an easy-to-follow format for professionals and family caregivers.

The UCOA does not have any affiliation with this product, we are mearly sharing the resource



Inspiring Ideas on Youtube


Online Resources

Portrait of a Caregiver

Portrait of a Caregiver is a research based play created from themes gleaned from verbatim conversations with caregivers. Portrait of a Caregiver engages the community in conversations that lead to greater understanding and active support for families living with dementia.


Products, ideas, blogs etc. that simplifies creative activities


An organization that supports family caregivers, students and aging professionals in bringing creative engagement into the lives of those living with dementia. Learn the art of group-based creative story-writing, asking beautiful, imagination-based questions and facilitating creative projects.



Suit of cognitive training games targeting users with mild dementia

SingFit STUDIO Caregiver is a therapeutic music program that enables caregivers, even those with no previous musical experience, to use song to engage loved ones who have dementia in a fun, failure free activity, to produce therapeutic outcomes.

Reminisce together while you browse photos of everyday objects.

A library of ideas and instructions for meaningful activities (subscription)

Using a map of the world, access music from any region and any decade.

Provides access to high-resolution images and videos of artwork and artifacts of cultural and historic significance from cultural organizations around the world. Countless games, filters, tours… too much to describe!




The Arts and End of Life Care

As each individual approaches the end of their life, person-centered care becomes a priority. End of life may come quickly or slowly, it may be expected or surprising. Individuals may have varying degrees of physical and cognitive health. Despite these differences, end-of-life care has some overarching goals that apply to everyone: 

  • Physical needs are met; pain and discomfort are managed.
  • Emotional needs are addressed, emotional distress is alleviated and emotional well-being is nurtured. 
  • Spiritual needs, such as finding meaning and making peace, are attended to.
  • Meaningful social connections are nurtured.
  • Practical, day-to-day needs are met.

The arts can play an important role in meeting these goals. Creative engagement can be a source of self-expression and fulfillment, social connection, diversion from pain and other common symptoms, meaning-making or a type of legacy work. Click here to learn more about art therapy or music therapy in hospice care. Music therapy is perhaps the most widely used creative arts therapy in hospice care. When choosing a hospice agency for your loved one, ask if they provide music therapy, any of the related music services or any other creative support for their patients. Need some ideas for arts-based activities you can do with your loved one near the end of life? Click here.

Last Updated: 2/7/23