Higher quality of life for seniors who participate in arts or attend events

Mr Syed Azmi with other members of the Otai Group - short for "old timers" - which performed yesterday at Our Tampines Hub.
Mr Syed Azmi with other members of the Otai Group - short for "old timers" - which performed yesterday at Our Tampines Hub.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

An NTU study found that arts participants aged 50 and above experienced better mental well-being and quality of life

Retiree Syed Azmi walks with a cane, but throws it away when he dances hip-hop.

"Dancing makes you tired but also happy. Happiness chases the tiredness away," Mr Syed, 63, said after performing at Our Tampines Hub during the Arts In Eldercare seminar organised by the National Arts Council .

Participating in the arts or simply attending arts-related events can significantly increase mental and physical health and quality of life for Singaporeans aged 50 and above, according to a new survey.

The Arts for Ageing Well Study, funded by the National Arts Council, is the first study to look into the effects of arts attendance and participation on the holistic well-being of seniors here.

Led by Assistant Professor Andy Ho of the School of Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the study, which collected data from last November to this February, worked with a sample of 1,067 Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 50 and above.

Of the seniors surveyed, 60 per cent had attended at least one arts-related activity in the six months before the study.

The most popular art forms were film (28 per cent of respondents), theatre (25 per cent) and heritagerelated activities (23 per cent).

Only 17 per cent of respondents had taken part in an arts-related activity in the three months before the study.

However, both arts attendees and participants enjoyed a significantly higher quality of life.

Seniors who participated in the arts had significantly higher mean scores (4 per cent difference) for mental well-being, compared with seniors who did not participate in the arts.

This group of seniors also experienced enhanced meaning in life compared with those who did not participate in arts activities

Similarly, seniors who attended arts events were more likely to experience better physical health and better cognitive functioning than those who did not attend arts events.

Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, said research such as Dr Ho's will "guide us to channel resources to areas which are likely to have a significant positive impact on seniors".

According to Dr Ho's study, older Singaporeans consider the cost of tickets or workshops when engaging with the arts. The events should also be accessible via public transport.

Barriers to engagement included lack of time and interest in the arts as well as inability to appreciate the arts.

Dr Ho said: "For a lot of seniors, art is something so distant to them. They think art has to be in a museum or gallery and they are intimidated."

Dr Ho, who is an amateur photographer, suggests taking art to the people - perhaps using knitting or cooking classes to engage seniors in arts and heritage events.

The Arts In Eldercare Seminar is organised alongside Silver Arts 2017, an ongoing festival of arts by seniors for seniors and their families.

The festival, which runs until Sept 24, brings together more than 80 artists, young and old, in 38 programmes of theatre, music, film and other arts-related activities across the island.

Ms Chua Ai Liang, senior director, engagement and participation, at the arts council, said the results of the study were encouraging and echoed the council's resolve to build and strengthen social bonds through arts.

She says future editions of Silver Arts will take art programmes to senior centres and voluntary welfare organisations, reaching out to seniors who might be too frail to travel far.

"We will look at different demographics of seniors and how we can reach out to them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2017, with the headline 'Ageing well, thanks to the arts'. Print Edition | Subscribe