“It’s better than any medicine!”
Led by Professor Stephen Clift, of the Sidney De Haan Research Centre, we have conducted a comprehensive literature review of the available evidence that singing and music have direct benefits for older people.
Professor Clift worked on this research with Trish Vella-Burrows, Catherine DePetrillo and Rebekah Gilbert, all from Canterbury Christ Church University.
These were some of the main findings.
- Since the late 1990s, there has been a considerable growth of research on the psychological, social and physical effects of group singing and much of this research has focused on the value of singing for older people, particularly in community settings. An increasing body of research has also explored the value of singing for older people with long-term health conditions.
- Important research contributions have also been made to the value of singing for people in care and particularly with dementia across a spectrum from mild to advanced stages of this condition.
- Alongside the development of research evidence on the value of singing for wellbeing, the last fifteen years has seen a considerable growth of organisations and initiatives directly promoting the provision of group singing for older people. Many of these initiatives document the value of the activity through testimonials and short films. This growth of provision has been supported to some extent through evaluation and research, but in the main has occurred despite a lack of robust scientific evidence of benefits, entirely on the basis of positive experiences and feedback through practice.
- To assist in identifying research on singing and older people, relevant to this review, a review of previous reviews in three areas was undertaken: reviews of singing and health; reviews of music therapy interventions for people with dementia, and more general reviews of creative arts interventions with older people. Many of these reviews identify weakness in the existing corpus of research, and argue for larger-scale, more controlled studies and for the development of stronger theoretical frameworks for understanding the key processes involved in effective singing (and creative arts) interventions and the mechanisms through with musical engagement leads to wellbeing and health benefits.
- Taken as a whole, research on group singing for older people shows convincingly that singing can be beneficial for psychological and social wellbeing, and that it may be helpful in helping people to manage a wide range of health issues, including mental health challenges and physical health problems associated with chronic respiratory illness and Parkinson’s. It is clear also that singing activity can positively engage people across a spectrum of severity with dementia.
- Important common sense qualifications to this general consensus are that singing is entered into voluntarily, there is skilled delivery of sessions, and content of singing programmes reflect the interests and musical tastes of participants.
You may also wish to read our “Live Music in Care” report, which has considered the impact of music and singing on the whole care home environment, including residents and staff.