woman drawing

The Healing Power of Art and Music


What’s not to love about art and music? They are universal languages, and, when combined, their cumulative power to enhance cognitive function grows. They energize the senses, tap into faded memories, and invigorate the soul. These restorative qualities show why art and music will be an integral part of our programming for residents at Inspīr.

Bruce Miller, MD, behavioral neurologist at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, believes creative abilities do not necessarily deteriorate as the brain ages. In the article “Aging: What’s Art Got to Do with It?”, Miller explains that the aging brain responds well to art by allowing the brain’s two hemispheres to work in tandem. The ability to use one’s creativity throughout a lifetime and the impact of crystallized intelligence gained from years of accumulated knowledge and life experiences help to cultivate the aging, creative brain.

In an article written by AgingCare, Diane Snyder-Cowan, director of the Elisabeth Prentiss Bereavement Center for Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, speaks on the power of music. She says she’s seen the way music can benefit older adults and believes it’s a powerful tool that can be accessed easily. Music therapy is now a well-known application used to help people with advanced dementia communicate and engage with their surroundings.

Holly Lapine, art therapist and founder of Artbeats, received her master’s degree in Art Therapy from Ursuline College in Ohio and dual bachelor’s degrees in Art History and Psychology from the University of Rochester. This background influenced her therapeutic studio art experience, which will soon become a part of Inspīr’s programming through the Sensing Art program.

Holly draws inspiration from the collections of four New York City art institutions on the Upper East Side: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guggenheim, Neue Galerie, and Cooper Hewitt. Each session in the Sensing Art program will open with welcoming music, often something nostalgic, such as Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” or other selections from the ’30s and ’40s. Holly then presents an art piece and encourages residents along with caregivers or loved ones to speak about it—what it makes them think about and what memories it triggers.

When presenting a still life, a bowl of oranges, for example, Holly may introduce real fruit to assist in triggering positive reactions. Then, she allows the residents to create their own pieces of art inspired by what they’ve seen from the museum. Some may be able to create the piece on their own, others may need assistance and work collaboratively with their caregivers. Helping one another is encouraged, and sharing what they’ve painted, while optional, is also encouraged. Each session starts and finishes with the same music.

While Holly combines both art and music into her programming, the benefits of each creative activity are equally beneficial to an aging population.

In the article “Participating in the arts creates paths to healthy aging,” the National Institute on Aging supports a theory that “singing in a community choir may be a unique approach to promote the health of diverse older adults by helping them remain active and engaged. It may even reduce health disparities.”

Award-winning composer and producer Beth Styles recently launched a pilot program at 92Y called Living Voice. This is a six-week songwriting workshop where participants, along with their caregivers, shared their life journey through song. The program is specifically geared toward people living with early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s and is meant to be a team effort with the person and their caregiver.

Beth will bring her Living Voice project to Inspīr by running a songwriting workshop similar to the pilot program at 92Y. She’ll also be doing a Living Voice “Community Sing and Swing” that will be available to all residents at Inspīr, not just to those living in Oceana. Residents will be able to sing and dance (either standing or sitting) to their favorite songs across many genres, periods, and cultures while learning interesting facts and colorful stories behind the music and composers who brought them to life. Additionally, Beth will be offering a Friday night Shabbat dinner and musical service for residents who request it. They’ll enjoy an inclusive, uplifting, spiritual, and musical Friday night Shabbat service.

Since 2012, Beth has been developing these musical experiences within her community. After her father passed from a battle with Alzheimer’s, she wanted to do something to give back to others suffering from the disease. It started as a community singing group at church and evolved into a program that Beth brought directly into the communities of those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

We look forward to seeing how both the Living Voice and Sensing Art programs enrich the lives of our residents at Inspīr.

Stay tuned for our next blog as we take a deeper dive into the interiors within our residence.

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