Sessions on using music, creative writing and the visual arts as tools to engage in healthy aging processes were given during The Creative Aging Symposium held at St. James Place.

The event, held March 24, was inspired by the late Byron Levy, an accomplished watercolorist and engineer, who relocated from New Orleans to St. James Place Retirement Community after Hurricane Katrina.

Throughout his life, Levy created hundreds of paintings, sketches and drawings, many of which were left to family members.

His son, Ron Levy, a faculty member at the Peabody Institute, stepped in as curator for his father’s artwork.

Ron Levy spoke at the conference about his father’s artistic process and how it helped with his aging process.

Conference sessions focused on how the arts can enhance the aging processes of both healthy people and those with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Jeffrey Keller, the keynote speaker and director of the Institute for Dementia Research at the Pennington Biomedical Center, spoke about how the arts can benefit people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Today, I talked about how our brain experience things, to help people understand how the disease process might change those experiences,” said Keller. “Even though their understanding of the environment is compromised, it’s likely that people with Alzheimer’s disease are still able to experience and enjoy the arts, even in the moderate to late stages of the disease.”

The Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge was a partner for the program, and CEO Renee Chatelain saw it as an opportunity to focus on enhancing the arts for a different population.

“We know the arts play a vital part in who we are as humans, especially in senior living,” said Chatelain. “We wanted to focus on informing the aging population about how they can continue to use the creative process and the arts to enhance their memories. Our daytime sessions were focused on using visual arts, creative writing and music to enhance life as you age.”

Keith John Paul Horcasitas, 58, a social worker from the Baton Rouge area, attended the symposium on his day off to learn skills to pass on to his clients.

“I think art helps to integrate our physical and emotional realms," Horcasitas said. "Since I’ve learned how to play the guitar, I find that my memory is better. Dr. Keller talked about how many things we have to process, and it makes you realize how wonderful and important our brain is.”

While many of the works of art on display during the symposium were the works of Byron Levy, a significant portion of the works were made by residents of St. James Place

“We want everyone to look at seniors from the perspective of they have so much potential left and that we should empower that potential," said Janet Dewey, a sales counselor for St. James Place.

Sessions and speakers focused on topics ranging from creative journaling to mindfulness to music, but they all focused on enhancing life and the aging process through the arts.

“We want to use these things to empower people and help with areas of dementia," Chatelain said. "Our shared humanity comes from how we express ourselves creatively, and it’s related to everything we do and who we are as humans.”