Place-based creative programmes can help alleviate the structural and place-related problems that affect older adults’ health. However, it is unclear why these programmes achieve positive outcomes, and how these may vary across contexts. This critical realist review aimed to address these gaps. We were able to evidence why these programmes may work for older people’s mental, social and physical health. Place-based creative programmes impact on health because they support social relatedness, motivation, self-continuity and self-efficacy. However, the circumstances under which and for whom these programmes work remain hidden since existing studies do not report sufficiently on context. We set out some of the general aspects of context that could form the basis of minimum standards for reporting.