Baby boomers are turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 people per day in the United States. Thanks to their longevity, women are the largest part of this "gray tsunami." In Minnesota, women make up 60 percent of adults over 65 and almost three-quarters of the population over 85.

Research shows a direct link between creative expression and healthy aging, and finds that older people who are involved in creating art, music, theater and other artistic forms feel better, remain more independent and live more meaningful lives. Older adults who engage in arts activities reduce the need for medications and lower their health care costs.

Lucy Rose Fischer, a St. Louis Park visual artist, is a prime example of the positive effects of artistic endeavor later in life. After a distinguished 25-year career in gerontology - with a doctorate and many books and scholarly articles on aging - Fischer became her own best subject, making the leap from academia to professional artist and teacher.

Fischer has embraced full-time art-making in the past 10 years. Now 69, she learned about artistic pursuit from her mother-in-law. "She was my teacher," Fischer says. "She started painting in her mid-40s and lived to 92, still doing art most of that time."

Watching her husband's mother, she says, "opened up a whole new focus for me. It's almost like I started my life over. It was not a closing down of my career, but an opening up. Making art means looking at things in a different way."

Fischer developed her own technique along the way - she paints upside-down, inside-out and backward on hand-blown glass bowls and vases, creating images alive with color and movement. She incorporates her life experience into her art, and has written a book, "I'm New at Being Old," about the still-astonishing process of aging.

Fischer also teaches visual arts at Twin Cities-area care facilities, often with people who have some form of dementia.

"Recently," she recalls, "one of my students seemed a bit disconnected. I wondered, 'What's she going to get out of this?' Then I realized she was using a part of herself that she doesn't use the rest of the week. A part that is still functioning, that can still create something unique and beautiful. That's what art is all about. It's what makes us human. It's the breath of life."

Tammy Hauser is interim executive director of ArtSage, which partners with artists and arts organizations, senior-serving organizations, and community groups supporting lifelong learning in the arts.

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