Virtual Trip to Museum ‘Can Help People Stay Mentally–And Physically–Healthy’

By Chris Montgomery

Online virtual trips to a museum may benefit older people in surprising ways, suggests a new study.

Researchers identified an association between regular online museum visits and a reduction of frailty and cognitive decline.

The culturally enriching activity made seniors feel less isolated, which earlier studies have shown is linked to a range of health complications.

They also ended up with a better quality of life following the trips.

For the study, researchers in Canada teamed up with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and recruited 106 people over the age of 65 who lived in the city.

Half of them took part in weekly virtual museum visits for 45 minutes over a three month period. They also joined a 15 minute question and answer session with a museum guide at the end.

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

The group that did the visits showed “significant” improvements in their social isolation, wellbeing, quality of life and frailty assessment scores when compared to the control group, the authors said.

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The biggest improvements were found in participants’ frailty scores, which refer 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 authors.

The art-based activity looked like an effective intervention, said corresponding author Professor Olivier Beauchet from the University of Montreal, who published the study in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.

“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 study from the same museum in 2018, called “Thursdays at the Museum”, found art-based activities can improve older people’s wellbeing, quality of life, and health.

In fact, the success of that pilot study led to a three-year multinational study to further test the effectiveness of such art-based interventions. Now, the Research Centre of the Geriatric University Institute of Montreal, in collaboration with MMFA and the University of Montreal, is developing a new program marrying art and health called the Arts & Longevity Lab to develop, validate, and promote art-based interventions for older adults.

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While schools, community centers and workplaces are suitable locations that reach a great number of people, there are other organizations that could be great partners in improving public health among the aging.

“Museums are aware of the need…and are consequently expanding the types of activities they offer,” said Prof. Beauchet.

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