Trinity College Dublin: Creativity and Ageing: new TILDA report explores benefits of creativity in later life

As part of a unique report, commissioned by Creative Ireland, the research not only highlights how creative activities affect the health and wellbeing of older adults, but also measures the impact of creative activities to support healthy ageing, and the impact of changes in participation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings show that older adults who participate in creative activities enjoy a higher quality of life and are less likely to be lonely, depressed and stressed compared to peers who do not.


The impact of COVID-19 on the health and wellbeing of older adults
It has been well documented that through the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, older adults have been some of the most disproportionately affected. Many of the public health restrictions brought in to control the spread of the virus focused on keeping older adults safe, but the restrictions subsequently led to increased levels of isolation and lost social links for older adults.

One of the on-going challenges for bolstering supports for health and wellbeing initiatives, is that there are gaps in hard, evidence-based research to show the positive benefits of creative engagement.

In response to this, Creative Ireland commissioned TILDA to tap into its rich research dataset to measure and explore the effects of partaking in creative activities in later life and identify the driving factors of older adult’s engagement with creative activities. The Creative Activity in the Older Adult Population report provides a detailed account of how older adults in Ireland engage with their creative side and creative activities as a whole.


What creative activities were examined?

TILDA’s research examines both active and passive participation of older adults in activities such as going to the cinema, plays or concerts, reading books or magazines, listening to music and radio, dancing, and spending time on hobbies and/or creative activities. In addition to examining TILDA’s rich dataset between 2009 and 2018, an additional questionnaire specific to this study was designed to collect information on the experiences of older people during the COVID-19 restrictions of 2020.

What are the key findings?

• Older adults reporting the highest levels of involvement in creative activities re-ported the highest quality of life, and scored lowest on loneliness, depression, worry and stress measurements.
• The level of involvement in creative activities was consistent between 50- 74 years of age, before beginning to decline more rapidly from 75 years and older.
• Higher educational attainment and higher income were strong driving factors for regular involvement in creative activities.
• Women were over three times more likely than men to read books, magazines or newspapers for pleasure weekly, while adults living in rural areas had lower in-volvement compared with those in rural areas.
• Proportions of adults reporting high physical activity were highest among those also reporting moderate or high creative activity.
• Time spent doing hobbies, crafts or puzzles increased among older adults during the first COVID-19 lockdown (March to November 2020).
• 26% of older adults reported doing hobbies, crafts or puzzles more often.
• Compared with before the pandemic, the older adults reporting they had spent less time reading or doing hobbies, crafts or puzzles had higher loneliness, de-pression and perceived stress.
• Participation in creative activity is high among the older community dwelling population and shows positive associations with health.

These findings show that participation in creative activity is high among the older adult population, and is positively associated with good health, and quality of life. A key aspect that researchers found was that lower levels of participation was visible among those in lower educational and income groups, and in those with worse health.


Senior Data Manager at TILDA, and Lead author of the report, Dr Siobhan Scarlett said:

Participation in creativity activities is a positive form of self-expression that not only helps to alleviate stress, or reduce worry and responsibilities, but helps to improve wellbeing in older adults. The findings show that overall participation in creative activity is high among the older community-dwelling population in Ireland, with those engaged in creative activities, less likely to be lonely, depressed and stressed, and more likely to report better behavioural health patterns.

However, we see lower participation among adults in lower income groups, educational attainment groups, and adults living in rural areas. Policies addressing those with lower participation levels and increasing initiatives to help remove access barriers for creative programmes could be developed as a means to improving health and wellbeing.

The report findings were discussed during a special webinar to launch the report on Monday November 22nd, 2021.

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