Art That Surrounds Us

by Rachel Bartelsmeyer | IIDA, NCIDQ | Designer, Art Associate
“Wisdom is wasted on the old, and youth is wasted on the young.”  We have all heard variations of this famous quote from George Bernard Shaw at some point in our lives.  I have found I am living the best of both worlds.  I believe I will have a higher quality of years ahead of me with the knowledge gained and my unique perspective with a background in Gerontology and an Interior Designer specializing in the senior living market.  There are numerous research studies on life expectancy and how to increase our quality of life as we age.  But applying the wisdom that has come with age and my youthful look at life, I have found that the art that surrounds us can make a huge impact on our life expectancy.

Here are the top 5 habits that we all know help increase life expectancy

  1. good diet
  2. regular exercise
  3. healthy weight
  4. not smoking
  5. not drinking too much

What if we incorporated mental exercise into this theory of life expectancy?  Our emotional, physical, and cognitive engagement; using art specifically as a tool for this process.  As designers in the senior living market, we are constantly considering all the environment’s elements and how we can encourage the residents to interact with their space and fellow residents.  The arts can be a vital part of the design to engage the mind at all levels of care for senior living.  Whether you’re looking at incorporating a performing arts theater for the residents to express themselves, a full art studio supplied with all art mediums, or even paying close attention to the art package installed throughout the community.

Watching artists performing or participating in a performance piece opens your mind to memories of the past and engaging conversations with your neighbors.  Being able to try new mediums of art can be a challenge worth tackling at any age.  A study on seniors participating in the arts referenced in the Forbes article “The Arts and Aging: 5 Surprising Insights on Creativity”1 noted, “Participants had lower rates of loneliness and depression, higher morale, and improved hand dexterity. In addition, participants found that having new social roles because of the programs led to improved mood and confidence, better family relationships, and in some cases even increased income.”  Their daily activities engaged them socially and creatively, providing more exercise to their minds.

Art can also play a vital role in the progression of dementia.  Actively using your mind by learning a new skill, such as a medium of art, allows your brain to be engaged to express what you might not be able to verbalize with forms of dementia.  In an interview printed from National Geographic, a man diagnosed with dementia was encouraged to learn a new skill by his doctor.  He decided to pick up a brush and paint after his diagnosis in 2019.  After creating more than 17,000 pieces, he engaged his brain in a creative process daily.  Had he not been able to express himself in his creative outlet, the seclusion of the 2020 pandemic would have been detrimental to the progression of the disease. 2

In a recent senior living project, our art team encourages musical interaction with art in two memory care households.  The art is specifically designed to be a musical instrument, a xylophone, attached to the wall for caretakers to bring the residents when they need brain stimulation or a sense of peace.  This simple piece of art allows the residents living with any form of dementia to recall an essential piece of them that may otherwise seem lost.  Even people who were not artistic or avid music listeners throughout their life can be inspired by music from memories or a painting that evokes emotion. “Medications can’t stop the disease’s inexorable damage to the mind, and stress and agitation often remain challenging despite drug treatment. But a growing number of Alzheimer’s institutions and caregivers are realizing that a musical walk down memory lane — a dance class, storytelling session, art project, or museum tour — can do more than offer pleasant diversions. They can improve a number of disease symptoms and quality of life.” 3

Continuing to learn and exercise your mind through the arts that surround us can provide so many benefits of longevity, so, I ask you; how do you want to be seen by others as you age?  Personally, I lean towards a long, fulfilling life with a youthful artistic, and holistic look at the world.  As I have experimented with art throughout my life, I always felt that paint or drawing was the only way for me to learn the craft of art.  However, as I have been diving headfirst into our art department these past six years, I have found that fabric was always my passion sitting below the surface.  Shocker, I know fabric is a passion of an interior designer pretty original, but there are so many beautiful ways to use fabric through the expression of art.   I am currently teaching myself how to sew and use a sewing machine, an art that seems to be lost among my generation.  So, I say to everyone reading this, youth and wisdom won’t be wasted in my life I surely hope it won’t be in yours too.


  1. Forbes – The Arts and Aging: 5 Surprising Insights on Creativity
  2. 2023 @natgeo cover story Living Longer & Better: How Science Could Change The Way We Age, by Fran Smith.
  3. Boston Globe – Art Therapy  Maybe the Most Effective Treatment for Dementia

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