A visit to a virtual museum can improve mental wellbeing in older people

Weekly online museum visits resulted in improved quality of life scores for participants

23rd August 2022 about a 3 minute read
"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 ageing.” Dr Olivier Beauchet, professor of medicine, University of Montreal

Taking part in weekly guided online tours can give a boost to the health and wellbeing of older people confined to the home, Canadian research has found.

We know that social isolation can be detrimental to people’s health, increasing risks for stroke, heart disease and mental decline. Studies have shown that art can be give a boost to both physical and mental wellbeing, but the researchers at the University of Montreal decided to investigate whether the benefits of art could be delivered digitally, rather than through visits to galleries.

The research team, in collaboration with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), recruited 106 people aged 65 and older living in the Montreal metro area. Between January and April 2022, half the participants attended a 45-minute guided online tour of MMFA once a week, including a 15-minute Q&A with a museum guide at the end. The control group abstained from participating in any cultural activities during the same time period.

The results, published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, found that the intervention group showed significant improvements in their social isolation, well-being, quality of life and frailty assessment scores compared to the control group.

A model that could be offered worldwide

“Our study showed that art-based activity may be an effective intervention,” said lead author Dr Olivier Beauchet, a professor of medicine at the University of Montreal. “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 ageing.”

The biggest benefit of the tours was in reducing frailty. The term “frailty,” Beauchet said, 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.” He added: “Health and social systems need to address the challenge of limiting frailty and its related adverse consequences in the ageing population.”

The study follows on from previous research that investigated the potential health benefits of an MMFA programme for older people called Thursdays at the Museum. A pilot study in 2018 showed that art-based activities hosted by the museum could improve well-being, quality of life and health in older adults.

The success of the pilot study led to a three-year multinational study to test the effectiveness of such art-based interventions across societies and cultures. The Research Centre of the Geriatric University Institute of Montreal, in collaboration with MMFA and the University of Montreal, is also developing a programme that called the Arts & Longevity Lab that aims to develop, validate and promote art-based interventions for older adults.

FCC Insight

It’s good to see research that tackles the problem of social isolation among older people in a fresh and innovative way. Although relatively small-scale, the results are promising, and we would encourage other researchers to investigate ways in which other online technologies could be used to create opportunities for people confined to the home both to meet others and to engage in mentally stimulating activities. Many museums and art galleries now offer virtual tours, so there is plenty  of scope to extend programmes such as the Montreal one to people who could benefit from them.