By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D.
“Earth, without Art is just ‘Eh’” — Demetri Martin
A few years ago, some of our elderly residents started coloring. It was not an activity we promoted or arranged; we did not provide the materials–they just started on their own. Then they started getting together to color in groups.
Now, the activity has gained momentum and coloring groups are sprouting up at other buildings multiple times per week. Some residents display their creations in the dining rooms, and I’ve had a few bring me some prized pages as gifts for my office walls.
Because coloring has long been associated with children, many look at the activity as infantile and unworthy of consideration as an activity to be promoted for seniors. I did not believe so, so I went in search of research to determine if there were benefits of coloring that were unsung.
A quick search on Google and I was able to find several articles that listed benefits of coloring. It turns out that many psychologists and other mental health practitioners use coloring as a tool to help their patients. They noted that both in the therapeutic and home setting, coloring can help people promote some or all of the following:
- Muscle control, including coordination and dexterity – as we age, or after medical episodes like strokes, coloring could help retrain our muscles and our brain. Some proponents note that coloring uses both sides of the brain – one for the creativity and one for the logic and patterns.
- Self-expression and imagination – coloring can create an avenue for communication if there are deficits in the language centers of the brain. Colors used can be used to gauge mood for people who are nonverbal. And promoting creativity can help elders cope with other changes in aging.
- Increasing focus and stress relief – many articles argue that the mindfulness of coloring (including focusing on things other than life’s stressors) could lower blood pressure. Carl Jung, a 20th century psychologist employed coloring as a relaxation technique. Scott M. Bea, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist, noted, “Adult coloring requires modest attention focused outside of self-awareness. It is a simple activity that takes us outside ourselves.”
- Socialization – one of the easiest benefits to understand is the benefit of socialization. Residents who color in groups get to sit together and chat, and each benefits from the giving and receiving positive feedback.
- Explore forgotten memories – one article noted that the simple act of coloring could promote an opportunity to see yourself across your lifetime and reexamine who you are and how you have brought creativity through your life.
The articles I found did not note another benefit that we see in our community – pride and increased self-worth. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing one of our residents show off their newest creation to the staff or their families. If coloring begins to be viewed as a more valid creative endeavor, this could increase the purpose and happiness they feel in later years.
One of our residents, Karyl, noted yet another benefit of coloring, “People who see this as un-purposeful are missing the point. It is important to take time out from being busy and rediscover your playful side. We talk about stopping to smell the roses; coloring is a way to appreciate the beauty we create and retrains us to see the colors and designs all around us.”
I was interested to note, however, that the articles were clear to suggest that coloring “may” and “might” have the benefits listed. It seems, so far, that there is little available research to determine the psychological and medical effects of coloring.
It will be of interest to see if researchers can prove these claims. Since adult coloring is somewhat new, it may take some time for researchers take note of this new activity and determine if it truly has health benefits. Until then, perhaps we can view coloring as truly Art for Art’s Sake.