Embracing the Arts and Aging: A Review of Two Must-Read Books

at left, a woman reads a book; at right the cover of a book called Your Brain on Art

Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”—Betty Friedan

Over the summer, I found myself drawn to books celebrating aging and longevity, new discoveries about the arts and its positive impact on the brain, and the power of the mind-body connection and our beliefs, especially about age, shape our lives. Here are my top two. Both are available through local public libraries and bookstores.

Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us

by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross

Art has the power to improve our mental and physical health. It enhances learning, builds cognitive skills, and helps us to flourish. Art can serve as a catalyst to building stronger communities and deeper social connections.

Your Brain on Art offers an amazing journey, guiding readers through discoveries of the new science of neuroaesthetics. It weaves a colorful quilt of stories from people who are using the arts to make an impact on their own well-being and the daily lives of others, breakthrough research, and insights from pioneers in many disciplines.

As an observer, audience member, and participant, I’ve experienced the arts to be affirming and transformative and that is what this book celebrates. Whether I’m playing my cello, making a linocut print, visiting a museum, writing a poem, enjoying live music, or watching a play, each opportunity changes me in some way. It’s a stress-reducer. An emotional release. A connector. An opportunity to express myself. An act of joy and purpose.

The arts are broadly defined—dancing, singing, drawing, performing, painting, improvising, creating, designing, acting—and all are essentials to our lives.

As a member of the Frye Art Museum Creative Aging Committee, I’ve witnessed how time reflecting on art in the museum as well as participating in hands-on arts projects help ease isolation and loneliness, reengages those living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias in meaningful expression and creation, and supports care partners.

The arts are for everyone! Art is transformative. Tap into and embrace your creativity. Immerse yourself in the arts. Your Brain on Art will serve as a catalyst to expand your understanding arts’ power.

Breaking the Age Code: How Your Beliefs About Aging Determine How Long & Well You Live

by Becca Levy, PhD

The psychology of aging is getting more attention. In Breaking the Age Code, Dr. Becca Levy, a Yale professor in both epidemiology and psychology, shares insights from her innovative research and encourages us all to rethink aging. Levy also provides a roadmap to debunk negative age stereotypes and bolster positive age beliefs.

Throughout the book, Levy demonstrates through scientific discoveries how many health problems formerly associated with the aging process— — memory loss, hearing decline, and cardiovascular events — are influenced by negative age beliefs. For example, results from Levy’s research show:

  • Those who are younger and have a positive outlook toward aging live an average of 7.5 years longer.
  • Cognition: individuals with an affirmative attitude toward age enjoy better memory function.
  • Mental health: lower stress levels are an outcome of seeing aging as a positive experience.
  • Physical health: recovery from disability and illness is more likely when a patient has approving attitudes about aging.
  • Creativity: it continues and even increases later in life. Older people are often leaders in innovation and change.

This book is a manifesto, a guidebook to fighting ageism, addressing and overcoming myths about aging and a call to action to shift our mindset towards the positives of aging.

Keri PollackContributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, a care management and creative engagement practice based in Seattle. She is a member of the Age Friendly Coalition for Seattle and King County, serves on the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) Board, and the Frye Art Museum Creative Aging Programs Advisory Committee.

This article appeared in the October 2023 issue of AgeWise King County.