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Aging Well: Photography focuses on brain health

Photography offers many benefits for mood and general well-being, along with the potential to improve several areas of brain health.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

Want an enjoyable pastime that sparks creativity, stimulates your brain, and creates good memories? Pick up a camera!

Photography can be as simple or as challenging as you want to make it, and whether you try a creative slant or get practical about recording the people and events in your life, you’ll find it can become a fascinating pastime with myriad benefits for your well-being.

Local Focus

For Robin Kent, photography is a full-time endeavor, a community, and a second career of sorts. “The main thing I’m known for is Washington, D.C.’s federal area, because it’s close. My preferred landscape — such as country found in the Pacific Northwest — is not close,” he says. “But here, the buildings are my mountains, and the fountains are my waterfalls.”

Robin and his wife Laurie are planning to move to The Mather, a Life Plan Community for those 62 and better, when it opens in Tysons, Virginia, in 2024. “Once we move in, it seems it’s going to be a problem of what to choose to do there rather than finding something to do — there will be plenty of programs,” says Robin. “A lot of informal groups are starting already — Laurie is in a fiber arts group that meets monthly. I’ll probably coordinate with other artists there.”

The Mather will incorporate a focus on creativity as an integral part of Aging Well, and will have plenty of opportunities for residents to engage with art and creativity on-site through classes, collaborative Open Art Studios, and partnerships with local museums and galleries.

Early Exposure

He grew up working in his family’s Florida photography store and learned “just about everything” about film, but opted to follow a different career path. “Then, after I retired, I went straight out to California to take a one-week workshop with a famous landscape  photographer named Galen Rowell,” he says. “I still use what I learned in that workshop.”

Robin has developed a following, particularly for his stunning twilight shots of D.C. “At this point of my life, I want to shoot what I want to and when I want to,” he says. “I do sell some of my work; I’ve had agents and worked with an art consultant, and I exhibit. I belong to Great Falls Studios, a consortium of about 90 artists, and we hold an annual studio tour every October.”

Picture-Perfect Brain Benefits

Like other creative pursuits, photography offers many benefits for mood and general well-being, along with the potential to improve several areas of brain health:

  • Cognition. Researchers have found that photography has “high-cognitive demand,” regularly stimulating the brain and providing long-term cognitive benefits. One study found that participants who used digital photography showed improvements in episodic memory and reasoning skills.
  • Mindfulness. Viewing the world with a photographer’s eye offers moments to slow down and focus on the present. There is even a meditative practice called mindfulness photography, which includes a focus on emotions, gratitude, and sharing photos with others. “When you’re walking around with a camera, you look at things. You tend to notice more,” says Robin.
  • Connection to others. Other research shows that photographers who share their work in person or online report improved self-care, interaction with a community, and the potential for reminiscence.

Robin adds, “There’s also a physical component to photography: I have to carry about 20 pounds of gear around, and there’s a lot of walking. And the main thing is, it gets you outdoors.”

The Mather in Tysons, VA, for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. It opens in 2024.

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