With 76 million baby boomers on the retirement horizon, "we need to develop a new paradigm where instead of seeing aging as loss, we see aging as something that involves gain," said John Krout, professor of gerontology and director of the Gerontology Institute at Ithaca College. He explains that a growing body of research shows the aging brain is not all a story of decline "It's not 'use it or lose it' — it's use it and improve it," he added.
Under Krout's leadership the Gerontology Institute recently launched a Center for Creativity and Aging — The Linden Center. "The Linden Center responds to a public imperative, on the local and national level, to explore and understand how older people can continue to flourish creatively and remain engaged," said Krout.
The Center will provide grants to faculty and students funding research, model programs, internships and public education on creativity in the later stages of life.
Additionally, the Center will develop community-linked programs involving elders exploring creative arts for the first time, as well as engaging college students with elders.
Research shows, among other things, that staying engaged in creative activities gives people a sense of mastery, significantly improves overall health, and improves scores on the Geriatric Depression Scale and the Loneliness Scale.
Numerous artists continue to produce new works into their 80s; Martha Graham danced until 75 and choreographed until age 96. "Dr. Seuss" continued publishing into his 80s. Furthermore, studies show that many people of lesser talents continue to practice and take much gratification from their creative endeavors into old age.
In rebutting the response of "they are the exception rather than the rule,' Krout points to numerous Ithaca area artists, such as local drummer George Reed (85) who recently performed at Ithaca College.
"I'm still experimenting and getting different sounds out of them. I've barely scratched the surface of what you can get out of a set of drums," said Reed, who plans to live to 100 and still performs at various venues several times a week.
"We need to think of our aging population as a rich resource and I think boomers are the leading edge of a potential revolution in old age. They will change how our institutions relate to older adults and how we define old age for our family and ourselves. They [boomers] are astute politically and will demand solutions to their problems and the issues they care about, particularly about their quality of life; they will not retire to the front porch," said Krout. "Boomers present new and exciting opportunities for greater creativity in all walks of life."