Scientists have discovered that a virtual museum trip can improve your physical, mental and social health

The study found that older adults stuck at home could benefit from a virtual trip to a museum.

A randomized controlled study demonstrates significant gains in social isolation, well-being, quality of life, and vulnerability ratings.

Scientists have long known that social isolation is linked to a variety of health problems, such as an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as mental decline and even premature death. Because they are more vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness, older adults are especially at risk. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the situation by requiring social distancing, particularly to keep the world’s elderly healthy.

However, when paired with interactive art-based activities, the same digital technology that allows workers to connect remotely may help older adults become healthier physically, mentally and socially. This is the finding of a recent study, the first to show how trips to virtual museums can significantly improve the quality of life for homebound seniors. The researchers’ findings were published in the journal frontiers in medicine.

Researchers from Canada and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) collaborated to look at the advantages of conducting weekly virtual visits over a three-month period. 106 residents of the Montreal metro area 65 and older were recruited for the research. Half of the participants attended one guided tour each week, while the control group did not participate in any cultural activities during the same time period.

Art improves life

The intervention group showed significant improvements in their social isolation, well-being, quality of life, and ratings of vulnerability when compared to the control group, according to the paper.

Lead author Dr. Olivier Bouchet, Professor at University of Montreal. “Globally, this participatory art-based activity could become a model that could be presented in museums and art institutions around the world to promote active and healthy aging.”

The biggest benefit of the 45-minute virtual museum tours, which also included a 15-minute Q&A at the end with the museum guide, was vulnerability improvement.

Bouchet explained that frailty refers to “a state of vulnerability for individuals to experience negative health incidents and disabilities that negatively affect their quality of life and increase health and social costs.” “Health and social systems need to meet the challenge of reducing vulnerability and the associated negative consequences of an aging population.”

An innovative way to improve health

The new study is an extension of previous research that investigated the potential health benefits of an ongoing MMFA program for seniors called “Thursdays at the Museum.” Findings from the 2018 single-arm pilot study indicated that museum-hosted art activities can improve well-being, quality of life, and health in older adults.

Indeed, the pilot study’s success led to a three-year, multinational study to test the effectiveness of such art-based interventions across societies and cultures. In addition, the Research Center of the Institute of Aging University of Montreal, in collaboration with the MMFA and the University of Montreal, is developing a new program that combines art and health called the Art Lab and Longevity. The purpose of the laboratory is to develop, validate and promote art-based interventions for older adults.

These initiatives reflect approaches advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO) for managing chronic diseases, according to Beauchi. For example, the World Health Organization launched the Aging and Health Program in 2015 which included the use of community organizations to promote culture as a key component of improving health. Traditionally, these types of preventative health activities have occurred in schools, community centers, and workplaces.

“While these are convenient sites that reach a large number of people, there are additional organizations and sectors that can become partners in public health research and practice development,” Bouchet said. Museums are among these potential partners. They are aware of the needs of their communities and are therefore expanding the types of activities they offer.”

Reference: “Benefits of a 3-month course of weekly virtual museum tours in the community housing of older adults: Results of a randomized controlled trial” by Olivier Bouchet, Jacqueline Matskeff, Kevin Galerie, Linda Goossens, Constance Lafontaine, and Kim Suchchuk, August 16, 2022 and frontiers in medicine.
DOI: 10.3389 / fmed.2022.969122

The study was funded by Fonds de recherche du Québec-Société et Culture and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.