Prescribing the arts for older adult health

Shreeniwas awarded NEA funding to explore social prescribing for the arts

The World Health Organization recently reviewed evidence that engaging in arts promotes health and wellbeing across the lifespan. Their report found that “over 3000 studies identified a major role for the arts in the prevention of ill health, promotion of health, and management and treatment of illness.”

“Encouraging arts participation can work as a lower cost health intervention,” says Human Development and Family Studies Professor Sudha Shreeniwas. “It can improve a range of physical and mental health conditions.”

Dr. Shreeniwas recently won National Endowment for the Arts funding to see if a practice called social prescribing for the arts, or SPA, could be effective as part of the U.S. healthcare system, particularly for older adults.

The U.K, Canada, and several E.U. countries have experimented with SPA. In these systems, healthcare practitioners can prescribe arts participation for patients, who are then connected with appropriate programs in their communities.

“While the U.S. lacks universal publicly funded health care, most older adults have Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurance, which includes a range of preventive and curative care services,” says Shreeniwas. “We want to know if it is feasible to incorporate social prescribing for the arts into U.S. health insurance plans that cover most older persons.”

The team – which includes collaborators at the Kennedy Center for the Arts, University of Massachusetts Boston, Hunter College New York, University of Texas Arlington, and Lifetime Arts – will collect information on how SPA works in other countries, with the end goal of determining how it might be adapted for the U.S.

They will conduct interviews with key stakeholders in implementing SPA efforts overseas and older adults involved in those programs, as well as interviews with potential stakeholders in the U.S. healthcare system and a sample of older U.S. adults.

“We’re very excited about the potential SPA holds to improve the lives of older adults in America,” says Shreeniwas. “And we’re grateful for the National Endowment for the Arts’ support.”

by Sangeetha Shivaji

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