Catching a Play: How Older Adults Benefit from Theater Attendance

Staying active and engaged is important for older adults’ health and well-being, but sometimes it can be difficult to know which activities are best. Findings from a study of older theater-goers revealed how attending a play can influence well-being over time.

Specifically, the researchers were interested in what aspects of a theater performance influence older adults’ psychological and social well-being. They recruited people age 60 to 78 who held a subscription to their local theater to participate in a two-year study. Over the two years, participants attended seven different theater performances and completed a survey immediately after each performance. The survey had questions related to overall mood, social engagement at the theater, sense of belonging, and experiences of flow. At the beginning and end of the study, participants also responded to measures of psychological and social well-being. Forty-two people participated for the full two years.

After examining the data, the researchers found that experiences of social engagement, belonging, and flow at the theater performances were related to more positive mood over time. Additionally, more positive mood was linked to greater improvements in psychological and social well-being by the end of the study. In other words, attending theater performances afforded older adults the positive experiences of social engagement, belonging, and flow throughout the year, which lead to more positive mood and ultimately to better psychological and social well-being.

Psychological and social well-being can have implications for older adults’ overall health, and this study showed that common activities such as attending a play can help improve well-being. Importantly, finding meaning from these performances through experiences of social engagement, belonging, and flow seemed to be the driving force behind improvements in well-being. This type of activity not only helped to enhance participants’ mood, but helped to improve their well-being as well.

Participants in this sample were already frequent theater-goers, so it is not clear if these findings would hold up for newcomers. If nothing else, the study’s findings should encourage older adults to continue doing things that they enjoy, while staying socially and culturally engaged.


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Meeks S, Vandenbrouck RJ, and Shryock SK. Psychological benefits of attending the theatre associated with positive affect and well-being for subscribers over age 60. Aging & Mental Health (2018); doi:10.1080/13607863.2018.1534082

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