College of

Music, Art and Gardening Therapeutic to Aging Adults

February 20, 2008

Can the arts improve the well-being of older adults? Yes, according to Amir Parsa from The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Parsa was in Grand Rapids February 22, as a guest of MSU College of Human Medicine – Geriatric Education Center in Michigan and Grand Valley State University, where he addressed audiences at GVSU and the Grand Rapids Art Museum on the benefits of MoMA’s Alzheimer’s Project for people with dementia. 

Parsa spoke at MSU’s symposium, as part of Grand Valley State University’s “Art and the Science of Aging Conference.” He was joined by Frederick (Ted) Tims, MSU Professor and Chair of Music Therapy, and Joanne M. Westphal, from the MSU Landscape Architecture Program. 

The three experts in music, art and therapeutic gardening presented research-based findings that have the potential to shape interventions, education and community programming designed to directly impact health outcomes among older adults. 

Parsa described the MoMA Alzheimer’s Project as a nationwide initiative to advise museums in developing interactive tours of their collections for people in the early and middle stages of Alzheimer’s, and their caregivers, using the model developed by MoMA. The program’s benefits are remarkable: how the act of looking at art and engaging in discussions about the art can be a rich and satisfying experience for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their family-members and caregivers.

Tims discussed how music therapy has been demonstrated to help older people cope with stress and anxiety, as well as improve their health and well-being, and Westphal examined the therapeutic effects of garden access to residents in a dedicated dementia wing of a local nursing home. 

Moderator, Jeffrey W. Dwyer, Acting Associate Dean for Research, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine said, “This discussion on the arts is especially timely as individuals, families, health professionals and communities seek to address a wide array of challenges that emerge from a growing and increasingly diverse senior population.”

In addition to participating in the MSU symposium, Parsa also spoke with Grand Rapids Art Museum staff earlier in the day and again at the museum’s “Friday Night at the GRAM” event at a public lecture.