Virtual museum visits can significantly improve the quality of life for homebound older folks, a recent study found. Photo by Steve Buissinne
By combining technology with interactive art activities, older people at home can have museums come to them -- and this can support their physical, mental and social well-being, a new study reports.
"This participatory art-based activity could become a model that could be offered in museums and arts institutions worldwide to promote active and healthy aging," said lead author Dr. Olivier Beauchet, a professor of medicine at the University of Montreal.
On a global scale, social isolation is linked to a number of health threats, including an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as mental deterioration and even early death. The COVID-19 pandemic only added to seniors' isolation due to the need for older folks to minimize their exposure.
Researchers said this new study -- published Tuesday in the journal Frontiers in Medicine -- demonstrates how virtual museum visits can significantly improve the quality of life for homebound older folks.
Over three months, Beauchet and his colleagues worked with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) on the research. In all, 106 seniors in the Montreal area were recruited. Half took part weekly in online guided tours; half did no cultural activities.
Those who took part in virtual visits saw their scores on measures of social isolation, well-being, quality of life and frailty significantly improve.
"Our study showed that art-based activity may be an effective intervention," Beauchet said in a journal news release.
The biggest benefit of the 45-minute virtual museum tours, which also included a 15-minute question-and-answer session with a museum guide, appear to be in reducing frailty, the researchers said.
Frailty refers to a "vulnerable condition exposing individuals to incident adverse health events and disabilities that negatively impact their quality of life and increase health and social costs," Beauchet said. "Health and social systems need to address the challenge of limiting frailty and its related adverse consequences in the aging population."
The new study is a follow-up to research that examined the potential health advantages of a senior program run by MMFA called "Thursdays at the Museum."
Results from that 2018 study showed that art-based activities offered by the museum can enhance older adults' well-being, quality of life and health. The program's success led to a three-year international study to examine such art-based interventions in various societies and cultures.
Art-based initiatives are examples of strategies that the World Health Organization supports for managing chronic diseases, Beauchet said. WHO's 2015 Aging and Health Program highlighted the importance of promoting culture through community-based organizations to enhance health.
The Baring Foundation has more about how art can help counter loneliness in seniors.
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