What role do museums play with aging adults?


By 2040 it is projected that in the U.S. adults over the age of 65 will double. Many adults are living longer healthier lives; today there are more people are living over the age of 80 than before. Along with this increase in an "older" generation comes a wide variety of changes in society. There is now a large population of adults who are still very active and curious. Groups like The University of the Third Age, an international association of older adults who join together for continual learning and exploration, are starting to make a larger presence and impact on the world. However, the increase in an older generation also brings its challenges, specifically healthcare concerns that are commonly associated with an older population are becoming magnified. It is estimated that 1 out of every 10 men and 1 out of every 6 women over the age of 55 will develop dementia. Adults with these needs require constant care, resulting in over 45 million people in the U.S. providing care to a friend or family member. 


What can museums do to help the older generation?

In both of these cases, the case of the curious and the case of the cared-for, museums are taking a stand to make an impact on this generation. Museums are creating new programs to cater to those who have illnesses or that simply want to explore new ideas, they are adjusting their exhibits and spaces to account for accessibility issues, and develop programs for care-givers. Here are a few articles that speak more to these initiatives:


You may wonder, why museums? Why art? Why is it important that the art or museum industry address this issue? It is proven that art has a positive impact on senior citizens. A recent study by the National Endowment for the arts "found that “older adults” who attended cultural events, from museum exhibitions to the opera, reported better mental and physical health than those who did not". Artsy covered the story in an article stating that, "The pair found that those who both created as well as attended art “reported better health outcomes that year (lower rates of hypertension and greater cognitive and physical functioning) than did adults who neither created nor attended art.” Adults who either created art or attended exhibitions also “experienced slower rates of decline in cognitive and physical functioning over the last decade, and less growth in hypertension, compared with other older adults.”"

Your action

What about you? What is your museum doing to help with the growing population of older adults? What steps can you take this year to prepare for the changes that lie ahead?