Creatively Aging

aging in place

Creativity belongs not at the periphery but at the center of all studies of human experience.

~ Robert Kastenbaum


Aging in Place

Losses associated with aging have been well documented for decades now. Six of the primary types are health and/or physical capacity, quality of emotional relationships, death of loved ones, social integration, quality of life in a material sense, and quality of life in a cognitive sense. In fact, aging, by definition, equates with change and is too often only associated with losses that inevitably occur with the passage of time.

Having noted this, age-related losses are a fact of life—that’s the bad news; the good news is Creativity can act as a buffer. The Creative process can provide that broader referent of meaning and become a source of meaning-making beyond the loss. And Creativity can be taken up at any time, and you never have to retire from it!

I’ve always been fascinated by older adults who find sources of meaning within the context of loss—and the Creativity which is born out of the struggle with limitations. In my professional experience, I have seen many older adults who lack sources of meaning. In retirement, they don’t have ways to organize their lives due to losing roles such as careers or parents, for example. They will frequently search for meaning in age-related physical declines. I’ve called this phenomenon “sick-careers” choosing a default setting of elderly patients surrendering to the cultural, medical narrative of peak-and-decline. This is tragic and something I’ve witnessed for decades in “healthcare.”

As it turns out, life-long Creatives have been enculturated in Divergent Thinking (knowing more than one way to solve a problem) and have experienced being marginalized by the dominant culture. Both constructs have adaptive benefits in old age. Questioning cultural assumptions early in life and then in later life as well means not buying into false memes of older adults as burdens and non-contributors.

Further, the artist-as-cultural outsider is a superpower in old age. If your society wants to view you as “other” due to your age, you have some experience with this and have developed coping skills earlier in life to defend against it. For example, I recall talking with one older gentleman who is a painter. He described being called “the artsy one” as a kid—marginalized by other boys who played sports. It was painful to a young man to be “othered” by the dominant culture of maleness, but over time he developed a strong identity as “an Artist” that remains to this day.

So, as this artist has experienced age-related losses, he maintains a strong sense of identity, and his Creativity is a central source of meaning-making beyond them.



Note: Transcendence of the Self, when deeply immersed in the Creative process, is also a source of wellness and advantage in old age.

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