GREECE, N.Y. — Several studies, from groups like the National Institutes of Health, have looked into the benefit of art therapy for America’s aging population. At one Rochester area assisted living community, the benefits of art go far beyond creativity.

It’s been quite a while since Arlene Michielsen has painted with watercolors.

“I used to monkey around with this as a teenager,” said Michielsen, who is 96. “But that’s, as you know, a couple of years ago.”

The same can be said for most of the artists at The Legacy Retirement Community at Maiden Park, where brush strokes represent self-expression. 

Nazareth University art therapy majors Tina Starr and Amaya Barnes are the teachers. Both are interns.

“Somebody might not be willing to talk,” said Starr. “But use a piece of paper, and give them a watercolor palette, and they start painting.  The words can just flow right out of them."

That has been the transformation of one resident in particular. Kay used to stay in her room most days, isolated and alone. Now she is a regular at the art therapy classes for seniors.

“It isn’t coming out very good,” said Kay of her painting. “I don’t think it expresses what I’m trying to.”

“When we initially met her, very quiet, not expressive, not telling us how she felt,” said Barnes. “Now we get a lot of how she feels, whether it's negative or positive, but we have an opportunity to allow her to speak.”

Art therapy isn’t just painting. The conversations are important for many reasons.

“All these people, they have had lives, their hands have worked, they’re moms, sisters, fathers,” said Barnes. “So I think the impact of art therapy is deeper than anybody even imagines. It’s it taps into a different part of our brain’s expression. I think that's wonderful.”

“Isn’t that beautiful?” said Michielsen of her finished artwork. “We do the best we can.”

In a place in life where it’s easy to be lonely, a picture is a whole lot more than just an object to be hung on a wall.

“The point is, what does the process of art-making give you?” said Starr. “And that's oftentimes a variety of things, and it's healing.”