Impact of Aging on Creativity

Does creativity fade as you get older? A key question that I haven’t given much thought to.

My gut suspicion about famous artists tending to retire when they get older is that it likely has more to do with energy levels and past success than with having sufficient creativity. The concept of “use it or lose it” is a bit disconcerting. If you haven’t stretched your creativity muscles in a while, can you turn it back on?

Dementia or brain damage can affect creative output. But in a healthy brain, decline is not a given, said Mark Walton, author of “Boundless Potential: Transform Your Brain, Unleash Your Talents, Reinvent Your Work in Midlife and Beyond.”

“What’s really interesting from the neuroscience point of view is that we are hard-wired for creativity for as long as we stay at it, as long as nothing bad happens to our brain,” Walton said.

Later in the article it is suggested that a bit of degeneration in the frontal lobe might actually help creativity. It is possible that this change in the brain may be why some people pursue creative activities when they retire and not just because they have more time on their hands.

“That’s where artistic expression perhaps benefits from demyelinization,” Jung said, noting that less efficient connectivity can mean a loosening of associations that allows ideas to flow more freely. Older people might benefit from more continuous idea generation rather than “one great idea that’s going to win the day,” he said — essentially the difference between an inventor of the polio vaccine and an improvisational jazz musician.

In fact, the looser frontal lobe organization may heighten creativity in older people. “You have lots of data at your hands, and you have … fewer brakes on your frontal inhibitors, and you’re able to put things together in more novel and useful ways,” Jung said.