Creativity New Fountain Of Youth?

Singing in the choir helps Mary Barkley, 95, stay young.
Do not mistake them for the Sunday night singing class at the county home.

As CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, the Levine School of Music's Senior Chorale of Arlington Virginia has twice performed at the Kennedy Center.

As they rehearse Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing" in four-part harmony, understand that their average age is 80 years old. Mary Barkley claims to be 95.

They are also some of the country's oldest lab rats, volunteers in a multi-year study by Dr. Gene Cohen of George Washington University, who is examining the health benefits of creativity. He's interested in finding out how mental exercise is key to keeping the elderly young.

"They want to be challenged, and science has shown that when you challenge older people, both physically and mentally, they do better," says Cohen.

Cohen is finding that seniors who take on a creative challenge, in this case performance singing, are healthier. They go to the doctor less, they are less depressed and they suffer fewer injuries.

"My doctors say I'm an inspiration to us all," says Mary Barkley, a retired teacher.

Barkley says both the thrill of performance and the effort it takes to get there have improved her life.

"You feel better," she says. "You don't feel that ache in your legs."

She says she doesn't have time to think about her ailments because she's too busy "thinking about meeting that challenge."

That challenge comes from director Jeanne Kelly, who is emphatic about a lot of things.

But especially emphatic you should never baby the elderly.

Kelly, who teaches at the Levine School of Music, admits the performance is "not easy stuff."

"It's rhythmically very difficult and they rose to the occasion," says Kelly. "They are like sponges. They don't stop learning."

On concert day comes the real miracle. No one is old today. Today they are like athletes on game day and everyone, including Barkley, is jazzed.

"I'm ready to go now, have a big time!,'' she says.

In 25 years, the number of senior Americans will double to 70 million. Cohen believes the nation better be thinking about what they will do. Imagine tens of millions of Mary Barkleys, looking for some creative outlet to live with everything they've got.