Visiting a museum – even virtually – is good for seniors’ wellbeing

15 September 2022


Originally published by ETX Daily Up, August 19, 2022.

PARIS: Visit a museum to help ease one’s physical and mental aches and pains. It may sound like an unusual idea, but it’s a popular practice in many countries, particularly in Canada.

Between 2018 and 2019, doctors who are members of the French-speaking association Médecins francophones du Canada prescribed visits to the museum to their patients suffering from depression, diabetes or chronic diseases.

The initiative made sense as numerous scientific publications have reported on how engaging with works of art can have an impact on the physical and mental health of the population. But can the beneficial effects be felt at a distance?

Canadian researchers studied this question with the help of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), recruiting 106 people aged 65 and over, living in the Montreal metropolitan area.

Half of them were given virtual guided tours via Zoom once a week for three months. The tours lasted 45 minutes and always ended with a 15-minute question-and-answer session with a tour guide.

The other participants in the study did not participate in any cultural activity during the same period.

The researchers noted that the physical and mental wellbeing of seniors participating in these digital tours improved significantly over three months. They also found that they suffered less from loneliness than other seniors in the panel.

For Dr Olivier Beauchet, lead author of the study, these findings show that virtual guided tours can be “an effective intervention” to combat social isolation of the elderly.

“[They] could be offered in museums and arts institutions worldwide to promote active and healthy ageing,” he explained.

The study, recently published in the journal “Frontiers in Medicine”, follows a pilot project the MMFA launched in 2018 to improve the wellbeing and quality of life of Montreal seniors. The Arts & Longevity Lab, a programme based on art therapy, was implemented the following year with the same goal in mind.

Contact with works of art, even through a screen, is not only beneficial for isolated seniors: a team of European researchers found that virtual exhibitions can improve the mood of people of all ages.

Their therapeutic benefits are even more marked in individuals who have a particular attachment to art, or who find it beautiful – proof, if any is needed, that art is good for your health.