The impact of art and culture on our health and well-being (Helsinki)

Happy End by NextDoor Project in Helsinki. Photo: Per Morten Abrahamsen
Dancing makes you rediscover joy of life. Photo: Per Morten Abrahamsen

Through extensive research in care units with elderly and mentally ill, Hanna-Liisa Liikanen (FIN) in her doctoral dissertation concluded that there are four elements in art and cultural activities that have an impact on a person’s health and well-being. In short:

  1. Art provides artistic sensations and meaningful aesthetic experiences.
  2. People in contact with art usually express a better self-rated health and feel they are leading more satisfactory life.
  3. Artistic activities (like dancing, playing music with others, painting in the group etc.) create communality and social networks, giving friendships and better control over one´s life.
  4. Art makes living and working surroundings more enjoyable and attractive. Art is seen as part of everyone´s life, needs and rights.


Hanna-Liisa Liikanen was in the audience when Happy End was performed at the care center Käpyrinne Ry in Helsinki, and said afterwards: [the performance] was a fantastic example of artistic activity implemented by professional dancers (…) It gave the elderly persons an artistic experience but most of all impacted their wellbeing.

"We should remember to see old people without their "old mask". Photo: Per Morten Abrahamsen
“We should remember to see old people without their “old mask”. Photo: Per Morten Abrahamsen

Executive director of Käpyrinne Ry, Päivi Tiittula, is delighted to have had the possibility to give the residents of the care center such an “unforgettable experience” and furthermore notes that it was really healthy for the elderly people to be reminded of the fact, that even though old ages has claimed some of their abilities, there are still lots of things, that they are capable of.

We, who have to care for people, often only see where old people need help, and what kind of care they need. This project showed us that we have to see old people without their “old mask”, we have to see the entire person, and help the elderly people have the courage to believe in themselves and use their abilities.” says Päivi Tiittula. She also notes, that the staff were very proud to take part in the project.

Through art and dance the elderly people were revitalized, and reminded both themselves and their caregivers to focus on the possibilities, and not the obstacles of old age.

Through the Happy End Project Hanna-Liisa Liikanens conclusions of her doctoral dissertation has been seen in real life. According to Päivi Tiittula the elderly people cherish the memory of the process and the performance, they felt it reminded them of what they could still do (despite their age), they formed new bonds (even without speaking the same languages as the dancers they worked with), and finally, the project seems to have made the residents more content.

Päivi Tiittula encourages all of us to start drastically changing the way we as a society view eldercare and how we treat elderly people, and says: I hope that projects like this will help change the fact that we tend to look negatively on aging, and bring along lots of alternative methods and ways of thinking regarding eldercare. I hope that we in the future will be able to make it even more possible for elderly people to achieve more for themselves.

We hope so too.

Through art and dance the elderly people were revitalized. Photo: Per Morten Abrahamsen
Through art and dance the elderly people were revitalized. Photo: Per Morten Abrahamsen

Dancing is to be alive [Helsinki]

Happy End i Helsinki. Foto: Per Morten Abrahamsen
Hands touching while dancing at the carecenter Käpyrinne Ry in Helsinki. Photo: Per Morten Abranhamsen

We’re getting older than ever before. And often the old age is described by all the abilities that we loose. However the project Happy End reframes old age and insists on asking “What kind of freedom does old age bring you?” This approach compels both elderly people, and the families and caregivers to look at what makes life worth living, and to focus on the advantages of old age.

After participating in the Happy End project at their home, the carecenter Käpyrinne Ry in Helsinki, the residents still talk fondly about the experience.

Happy End by NextDoorProject in Helsinki
All the participants at the carecenter Käpyrinne Ry in Helsinki. Photo: Per Morten Abrahamsen

To do something new and at the same time familiar

Aino, an elderly woman who participated in the project, mentioned that she always liked dancing, but that this type of dancing was “different – modern and fun“. And her fellow residents agreed strongly that “to be part of this project means to be alive. To do something new and at the same time familiar.

Even though the performers  did not speak Finnish as the residents of Käpyrinne Ry, somehow they made the communication work. They figured out how to understand and get to know each other through signs and body language – and dancing, not least.

Happy End by NextDoor Project in Helsinki. Photo: Per Morten Abrahamsen
Dance can make you feel like flying. Photo: Per Morten Abrahamsen

It is never too late to learn something new

It has become an important memory for the elderly people to be part of this project. To work with “lovely and friendly people”, and to experience the process becoming an actual performance – more of the residents thought that to be “quite magical”. “It was fun to realize that it is never too late to learn something new,” Aino says.

Happy End has managed to meet the residents of Käpyrinne Ry and other carecenters with at curiosity, love and devotion, that has allowed them to use dancing to express themselves and to rediscover life.

If nobody asks you to dance, will you sit there silently, or will you dance on your own? Hopefully after being asked, the elderly people involved in this project will have remembered, rediscovered or learned anew how much life dancing brings, and maybe they will even start dancing on their own.

At the very least they now have the physical memory of the challenging and exciting process, and the knowledge that they accomplished something magical.