Virtual Museum Visits Can Improve Well-Being, Promote Healthy Social Habits in Seniors: Study

Rear view of unrecognizable mature man and woman in love sitting on stools in modern art gallery looking at artworks
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Trips to a museum are rich with benefits for our overall holistic health, and a new Montreal-based study has found that seniors can find social solace in joining weekly online tours from the comfort of their couch. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, museums and other arts organizations have combined technology and interactive art activities to bring the fine arts to the masses — and the recent research showed that this online socialization can support physical, mental, and social well-being, specifically for elderly community home residents. 

The study, published in Frontiers in Medicine on August 16, recruited 106 older adults living in community homes in Montreal, Canada. Between January and April of this year, half of the participants attended weekly online tours offered by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), while the other group did not participate in structured, fine arts-focused activities before or during the months-long study period. The group that joined weekly MMFA tours reported improved feelings of social inclusion, physical and mental health, and overall quality of life. 

Dr. Olivier Beauchet, professor of geriatric medicine at McGill University and lead author of the study, explained that the decrease in social isolation reported is consistent with the results of previous studies, which have shown that arts-based activities can reduce feelings of social isolation. 

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Findings revealed that art-based activity, when practiced in an interactive group setting, is effective in creating social connection.

“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,” he said in a press release. “While these are suitable locations that reach a great number of people, there are additional organizations and sectors that could become partners in public health research and practice development. Museums are among such potential partners.”

This recent study builds upon another study conducted by Dr. Beauchet at the MMFA between 2017 and 2018. The museum sought to quantify and qualify changes in the health status of participants in its “Thursdays at the Museum” program, where attendees are guided as a group through exhibitions and art workshops. 

The results of that study similarly showed a positive elevation in mood and physical well-being. In fact, they were so promising to experts that MMFA started a program in October 2018 that allowed doctors to prescribe their patients with a museum visit in addition to other treatments. Doctors in Montreal get a special “prescription pad,” which gains patients free access to the MMFA. The program is an innovative collaboration between the museum and Medecins francophones du Canada (MFdC). 

With the study serving as scientific backing for the benefits of virtual museum visits, seniors may increasingly look to browse online arts offerings while making new friends and connections. Click here to check out some of the 1,200 institutions offering free online exhibitions and virtual tours through Google Arts & Culture.