Grand Rounds presentations are an excellent opportunity for physicians, nurses, allied health personnel, residents, fellows, and medical students to gain exposure to new clinical challenges and treatment models in healthcare. But it is rare for Grand Rounds to also be an opportunity to talk about the creative arts in a patient-care context, aligning it with the growing concern about loneliness as a health issue.

In May, Foundation for Art & Healing (FAH) Founder and President, Dr. Jeremy Nobel, did just that with a clinical audience for Geriatric Grand Rounds at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), a Harvard affiliated care system in Boston, Massachusetts.

This was Dr. Nobel’s first talk at BIDMC and was a bit of a homecoming, as he had been an Internal Medicine resident himself at BIDMC more than thirty years ago. “I still remembered the callback number for the admitting office that meant that you had a new patient to admit to the hospital,” said Dr. Nobel, to laughter from the audience.

Dr. Nobel was the featured speaker and delivered a talk called “Loneliness in Older Adults: Why it Matters? What Makes a Difference?” Loneliness, Dr. Nobel noted, is a critical problem today in the field of geriatric care: as many as 40% of older adults, according to some estimates, feel lonely much or all of the time.

“We tend to think that maybe loneliness is just a part of being old, in the same way that we used to think that cognitive decline was just a part of being old,” said Dr. Nobel. “But it doesn’t have to be.”

In a fascinating twist on the usual Grand Rounds routine, Dr. Nobel then introduced the idea of creative arts expression in a medical context, as a powerful methodology for the care of patients at risk for loneliness. He explained that the arts can work as a neuro-modulator, actually altering the release of stress hormones, as well as reducing autonomic nervous system activity that modifies blood pressure and heart rate.

He then showed the short film “Drawings for My Grandchildren,” a heartwarming story about an older adult who learns to use Instagram to share his artwork with his grandkids, helping to reduce his loneliness and find a greater purpose. “Drawings for My Grandchildren” is an award-winning film from the UnLonely Film Festival, a collection of short films, currently streaming free at and devoted to creating awareness about loneliness while normalizing and de-stigmatizing it. Nobel also described The UnLonely Project’s arts-based support programs called “Creativity Circles” which have been shown to reduce distress, while fostering a sense of “connection” to oneself and others.

Dr. Lewis A. Lipsitz, Director of the Marcus Institute for Aging Research and Chief of the Division of Gerontology at BIDMC, noted the critical importance of initiatives such as the UnLonely Project for caring for aging populations.

“Loneliness is an under-recognized cause of the functional decline and disease in older people,” said Dr. Lipsitz. “But it is addressable if only we can identify those who are afflicted and use a range of humanistic and technological interventions to overcome it.”

By Bradley Riew, UnLonely Project Communications Team


The Foundation for Art & Healing