By Cris de Souza
The years of retirement should be a golden period. It means, one will be dignified, having a decent lifestyle, enjoying the fruits of their labour, families and friends. However, some seniors are mostly concerned with financial security. It is surely important, but so is good health. In our stressful age of addiction to telephone, television and computer, good health more than ever includes mental health.
Our brains naturally age and certain types of memory progressively deteriorate. It is important to have a good memory.
Thad A. Polk, professor at the University of Michigan, wrote, “We remember visual and spatial information much better than verbal information. In fact, there’s evidence that our long-term memory system was designed to remember information about the locations of visual objects.” Therefore, I suggest that we should dedicate more of our time to the visual arts. Polk also showed in his book, The Learning Brain, how aging affects learning and scientifically proven techniques to learn and remember more efficiently.
Samuel Beckett, an Irish writer, had a great passion for paintings. As a student and later as a lecturer, he visited the National Gallery of Ireland, which collection had a profound effect on his formation as an art lover and critic. His capacity for attention to visual art was notorious and he was never short of an informed insightful opinion. Beckett revealed the same quality in other great European galleries and associated with painters and individuals involved in the art world. Having compared works seen in different galleries, often years or decades apart, one may conclude he had a photographic memory.
Like most people, I do not have a photographic memory. But I can remember Turner’s reproductions that I saw as a teenager on the covers of the old Reader’s Digests. It was a pleasure to see them face to face years ago.
Regardless of the power of your memory, a healthy brain is desirable. Anyone who shows abnormal memory or cognitive dysfunction should visit a doctor. Physicians can examine and test someone and diagnose, for instance, dementia; or the fearful and mysterious Alzheimer’s disease, which has originated countless and fruitless scientific efforts.
Doctor Denise C. Park, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, wrote, “Alzheimer’s is a progressive brain disease characterized by increasing forgetfulness and confusion, eventually resulting in loss of independence and ultimately, loss of self. (…) At present, however, there are no effective treatments to prevent or slow Alzheimer’s disease.”
Yaakov Stern of Columbia University proposed that a lifetime of intellectual work in high-status jobs and high levels of education create a kind of “reserve” that protects performance as one becomes cognitively frail or develop early Alzheimer’s.
If that is the secret of the disease’s black box, any art lover will be tempted to say, “Try art”! Indeed, try art education, therapy and creation. Visit art exhibits. Talk, interpret and discuss art. Volunteer, learn and teach. Keep active and try all. (If you decide to sell your productions – for instance ceramics, painting or handicraft – you may or may not be successful. If yes, even the best market specialist will not be able to convince you that art is helpless.)
Both individuals and scientists have tried so many steps or methods for brain improvement, including diets, botanicals, drugs, teas, chocolate, games, music, physical activities and others. Why not the visual arts? They can improve your mind and life as you age.
There are various forms of brain training and some can include art. This may result in benefits to general memory function or improved performance in everyday life. Susan Luckman of the University of Southern Australia has written that research found that craft is good for your health, with emotional and cognitive benefits.
Curiosity has secrets. For instance, if you see the same picture or sculpture more than once, you can look for something you had not noticed before – a new tree, a new meaning, a new shape, a new symbol, a new detail and so on.
Georgia O’Keeffe, in her later years, stated, “I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.” Clint Eastwood, who is 88, said, “I’d like to be a bigger and more knowledgeable person ten years from now than I am today. I think that, for all of us, as we grow older, we must discipline ourselves to continue expanding, broadening, learning, keeping our minds active and open.”
If you are a senior, you should never be lonely or feel neglected. There are ways you can socialize more, integrate better with your community and relax more. Involving yourself with art can help you improve your brain and have a brilliant life.
Cris de Souza is a Toronto artist.
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