In 2001, the National Endowment for The Arts , along with the National Institutes of Health and four other federal and nonfederal programs, sponsored landmark research known as The Creativity and Aging Study. The goal of this multisite national study taking place in three major cities across the United States (Washington, New York, and San Francisco) was to examine the impact of participatory art programs conducted by professional artists on the physical health, mental health, and social functioning of older persons. The primary investigator was the late Gene D. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at the George Washington University. This was the first study of its kind, using an experimental design with a control group over an extended period of time, examining the influence of active engagement in the arts on the overall health of older adults.
The study began in Washington, DC under the artistic direction of Conductor Jeanne Kelly, formerly of the Levine School of Music . The Washington, DC site focused on singing groups that joined together in a large chorale, while the other sites were engaged in a diversity of other art forms. The first results reported from the study were those from evaluating the chorale compared to a control matched in terms of activity level and health status at the start of the study.
Interestingly the average age of the chorale and the control group was 80-greater than life expectancy. Many had not sung or read music before, and were taught to do so by Jeanne Kelly, bringing them to a level of accomplishment that led to their being invited to sing at the Millennium Stage of the Kennedy Center.
The results captured national and international attention. After baseline measurements were recorded at the start of the study, the chorale was assessed again a year later. At that time, the chorale reported overall improvement in their health, while the controls reported decline; the two groups had been perfectly matched at the start of the study. A year into the study, the chorale was using less medication and had fewer doctor visits than the control group, while medication utilization and frequency of doctor visits had been the same with both groups when the study began. A year into the study, the chorale was doing better than the controls on the depression, loneliness and morale scales that were used, whereas they were the same at the beginning of the study. A year into the study, members of the chorale were actually more active than at the start, whereas the controls were less active; again, they were perfectly matched in activity level when the study was launched.