Virtual trips to museums can help older adults overcome frailty, social isolation

MONTREAL, Quebec — A virtual trip to a museum can help older people stay mentally and physically healthy, a new study suggests. Researchers in Canada say regular online visits reduce a senior’s risk for strokes, heart disease, cognitive decline, and even an early death.

This is because such visits make the elderly feel less isolated, which earlier studies have shown can cause to a range of health complications. Older people also ended up with a better quality of life and were less frail following the culturally enriching “trips.”

For the study, researchers from the University of Montreal teamed up with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and recruited 106 adults over the age of 65 living in the Montreal metro area. Half of them took part in weekly virtual museum visits for 45 minutes over a three-month period. They took part in a 15-minute question and answer session with a museum guide at the end.

The other participants did not take part in any cultural activities at all.

The group that did the visits showed “significant” improvements in their social isolation, well-being, quality of life, and frailty assessment scores in comparison to the control group, the study reveals. The participants had the biggest improvements in their frailty scores.

What is frailty?

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,” according to the study authors.

“Our study showed that art-based activity may be an effective intervention,” says lead author Dr. Olivier Beauchet, a professor at the University of Montreal, in a media release. “On a global scale, 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.”

“Health and social systems need to address the challenge of limiting frailty and its related adverse consequences in the aging population.”

An earlier experiment by the same museum in 2018 — called “Thursdays at the Museum” — found art-based activities can improve older people’s well-being, quality of life, and overall health. The authors say the World Health Organization also advocates for this approach to managing chronic diseases.

The global body launched the Aging and Health Program in 2015, which promoted using community-based organizations to promote culture as a key component of improving health. Traditionally, they take place in schools, community centers, and workplaces.

“While these are suitable locations that reach a great number of people, there are additional organizations and sectors that could become partners in public health research and practice development,” Beauchet concludes. “Museums are among such potential partners. They are aware of the needs of their communities and are consequently expanding the types of activities they offer.”

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.

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