Creativity and The Life Course Perspective

A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.~Pablo Picasso


Aging in Place

I have always been intriguedwith the concept of Human Development throughout the lifespan. And I intentionally include “life-span” because the notion of developing as a human has largely been viewed as a phenomenon occurring in the first half of life. Much of the thinking in traditional historic gerontology has focused on continuity and stability rather than change and development. In fact, a common approach to aging emphasizes a pathological perspective, which equates getting older solely with disease and decline. We are not talking about “happy gerontology” (Gerontological Correctness as Rick Harry Moody calls it) oh no, a sobor assessment of aging does not blind itself to the age-related changes that are a part of growing older. However, it is well established that continued growth in realms of creativity can remain well into advanced years.

The theoretical underpinning for this post is The Life Course Perspective, which is an approach to aging that supports the last stages of life are the results of all the stages that came before (Moody, 1994). Further, Robert Atchley (1989) noted that despite significant changes in health, functioning, and social circumstances, a large portion of the older adults show considerable consistency over time in patterns of thinking, activities, living arrangements, and social relationships. This concept has been termed “Continuity of Self” (Continuity Theory). The theory does not assume stasis, but rather lifelong learning and intentional growth to evolve in directions of one’s own choosing.

Continuity of Self (Atchley, 1989) is the kind of personal sense of meaning essential to effective functioning (Kaufman, 1986). It has long been shown to buffer the corrosive effects of loss in health, social contacts, and wellbeing in advanced age. In addition, as a resource it helps older individuals preserve a sense of mastery and vitality, and this central-identity, which serves to organize experience, is separate from social structure and external events (Luborsky; in Adams-Price, 1998). This stability of a central-identity as a Creative is important in a culture which under-appreciates, if not denies the potential for creative growth and expression among older adults (Cohen1998).

The Pandemic Era

In the new era of COVID-19 and social/physical distancing there has been much discussion on the effects of the elderly in isolation. It is my conjecture that creativity as a verb–that is the process of bringing something new into existence, could act as a buffer against the isolating effects of the pandemic on older adults who are engaged with some form of the arts. That is why the idea of continued creativity at advanced age is so important to the wellbeing of older adults–it does not have to decline because society has mistakenly equated creativity with productivity (of youth). Sadly, we are aged by culture and the sooner aging is not marginalized, but viewed as a process along a normal continuum, the sooner we all benefit from our humanity’s full potential.

The Creative older adult + COVID-19 Isolation = Increased Productivity 😉



Revisiting the Summit on Creativity and Aging in America (2019)


PROJECT TITLE: The Creativity and Aging Study
The Impact of Professionally Conducted Cultural Programs on Older Adults
Final Report: April 2006


Atchley, R. C. (1989) A Continuity Theory of Normal Aging. The Gerontologist, 29, 183-190. Policy. Geriatrics, 53, 54-58.

Cohen, G. D. (1998) Creativity and Aging: Ramifications for Research, Practice, and Arieti, S. (1976) Creativity: The Magic Synthesis. New York: Basic Books.

Kaufman, S. R. (1986) The Ageless Self: Sources of Meaning in Late Life. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Luborsky, M. (1998) Creative Challenges and the Construction of Meaningful Life Narratives. In Adams-Price, C.E. (Ed.) (1998). Creativity and Successful Aging. New York: Springer.

Moody, H.R. (1994) Aging: Concepts and Controversies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forest Press.

Author note: Please take notice of dates of the sources and references; this topic has been around for many years and continues to grow in popularity and interest.


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