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Abstract

A compelling body of research demonstrates that music continues to offer powerful potential for enhancing health and well-being in old age. Active music-making has been found to provide a source of enhanced social cohesion, enjoyment, personal development, and empowerment, and to contribute to recovery from depression and maintenance of personal well-being throughout these latter stages of adult life. Within a context where life expectancy at age 65 years is rising rapidly and yet where increasing numbers of older people are reported to be living in isolation or suffering from depression, this body of research has important implications for understanding how access to active music-making may enhance the lives of older people. This article reviews a body of literature relating to specific benefits of active participation in music-making amongst older people. A case study is presented, illustrating some of the key points from the literature. Some barriers to participation are identified and implications for older people and their carers are discussed.
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
The power of music in the lives of older adults
Andrea Creech
Abstract
A compelling body of research demonstrates that music continues to offer powerful potential
for enhancing health and well-being in old age. Active music making has been found to
provide a source of enhanced social cohesion, enjoyment, personal development and
empowerment and to contribute to recovery from depression and maintenance of personal
well-being throughout these latter stages of adult life. Within a context where life expectancy
at age 65 years is rising rapidly and yet where increasing numbers of older people are
reported to be living in isolation or suffering from depression, this body of research has
important implications for understanding how access to active music making may enhance
the lives of older people. This paper reviews a body of literature relating to specific benefits
of active participation in music making amongst older people. A case study is presented,
illustrating some of the key points from the literature. Some barriers to participation are
identified and implications for older people and their carers are discussed.
Keywords: community music, older people, participation, well-being
Word count: 5291 (exclusive of references)
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
Introduction
Although the wider benefits of music for younger people are well documented (Hallam,
2010) less attention has been paid to the power of music in the lives of older adults. There is
a growing body of evidence, however, that in the latter part of our lives participation in music
may provide a source of enhanced social cohesion, enjoyment, personal development and
empowerment (Coffman, 2002; Sixsmith & Gibson, 2007). Music, according to Iwasaki,
Coyle, and Shank (2010, p. 485) is one of several culturally meaningful and creative leisure
activities that are ‘spiritually refreshing’ and promote self-expression, positive health and
well-being.
This paper reviews a range of evidence underpinning claims that music may positively
influence quality of life amongst older people. Whilst not a systematic review, the literature
included in this paper focuses primarily on research concerned with active music making
within social contexts, where aspects of ‘well-being’ or ‘quality of life’ have been reported as
a positive outcome. The intention of this review is to provide examples representing a range
of contexts and ways of making music. Where possible we have included a level of
methodological detail relating to the reviewed research that will provide a sense of the scope
of the research as well as the ways in which well-being or quality of life have been
conceptualised.
The Music for Life Research Project (Hallam et al., 2011), funded by the UK Economic and
Social Research Council’s ‘New Dynamics of Ageing’ programme, is presented as a case
study, illustrating some key points concerned with the social, emotional and cognitive
benefits of community music making amongst older adults.
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
Older adults: The context
Major demographic transitions are underway in the developed world. In the UK, the number
of people over 65 is projected to double by 2071, reaching 21.3 million (Government Office
for Science, 2008), while in the USA the proportion of the population in this age bracket is
projected to reach 13% by 2030 (Coffman, 2002). By 2020 there will be a quarter more
people in the UK over the age of 80 (Age Concern, 2008), rising to 9.5 million by 2071
(Government Office for Science, 2008). Amongst our ageing population the ‘oldest old’(over
85) comprise the fastest growing group. The Office for National Statistics (2011) estimated
that the number of centenarians in England and Wales had increased by 84%, between 2000
and 2010. Globally, it is estimated that this group will reach the one million mark by 2030
(Yong, 2009).
These extraordinary demographic changes have raised many challenges. For example, the
UK based Relatives and Residents Association (2010) estimates that at least 8% of older
people in care in England are living in social isolation. With the numbers of old people
suffering from depression increasing (Age Concern, 2008) and within a context where there
is an accepted need for initiatives that support older people’s well-being and productivity
(Jamieson, 2007) there is growing interest in the potential for music making to support
positive health, well-being and quality of life amongst older adults.
Older adults: The Third and Fourth Ages
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
Within the rapidly changing demographic context noted above, a definition of ‘older adult’ is
necessary. According to Laslett (1989), later life comprises a Third and a Fourth phase.
Generally, Third Age seniors are conceptualised as those who enjoy a considerable degree of
resilience in relation to independence, autonomy, cognitive functioning and well-being (Fillit
et al., 2002; Gilleard & Higgs, 1998; Scourfield, 2007). In contrast, the stereotype of the
Fourth age is one of a period of disengagement and dependency, involving physical and
mental decline and a decrease in subjective well-being (Baltes & Smith, 2003; Smith, 2003).
Laslett (1989) acknowledged the difficulty of attaching a chronological age to these phases
and argued that the Third Age represented a quality of life, rather than a specific age band.
Nevertheless, ‘the use of age bands has now become an accepted way to explore and to try to
understand the experiences of different cohorts’ (Withnall, 2010, p. 118). Schuller and
Watson (2009) recommend that the Third Age be conceptualised as between ages 50 and 75,
with the Fourth Age (the fastest growing age group in the UK) comprising those aged over
75.
The power of music during the Third and Fourth Ages
Music and well-being
Irrespective of the precise parameters of the Third and Fourth Ages, there is now strong
evidence that engagement with music may continue to contribute to quality of life and well-
being throughout these latter stages of the life-course, regardless of cognitive capacity
(Cohen, Bailey & Nilsson, 2002) or musical background (Hays & Minichiello, 2005). Hays
and Minichiello (2005), for example, used focus groups and in-depth interviews to explore
the relationship between music making and identity amongst 38 people, including musical
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
novices, amateurs and professionals, aged between 60 and 98. Overall, listening to music and
active music making were associated with social and emotional well-being, offering a
medium through which participants could express themselves and connect with others.
Musical background did not make a difference; music had meaning and importance in the
lives of professional musicians, amateur music-makers and novices alike.
Music making has been described by older people as ‘a way to survive’, ‘reviving’ and ‘a
breathing hole in my life’ (Forssen, 2007, p. 231). Twenty Swedish women ranging from
ages 60 to 83 took part in a qualitative study that explored how culture functioned as a health
resource for elderly women (Forssen, 2007). Singing, playing instruments, listening to music
and dancing, it was reported, provided a source of self-recognition and comfort.
An early experimental study that investigated the relationship between well-being and music
making was carried out by VanderArk, Newman and Bell (1983). The research took place in
a residential nursing home. Twenty participants aged 60 to 95 were assigned to the
experimental group, while a further 23, matched for age, were assigned to a control group
where there was no music making. The experimental group participated in music sessions
twice a week for five weeks where they sang familiar songs and used simple percussion for
accompaniment and sound effects. Significant improvements amongst the experimental
group were reported, including more positive life satisfaction, musical self-concept and
general attitudes towards music.
The relationship between music and quality of life was also investigated by Coffman (1999),
who surveyed 52 members of a wind band for senior citizens. Coffman reported that aspects
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
of quality of life, including social interaction, feeling enriched and experiencing a sense of
accomplishment, were attributed to this experience of active music making. More recently,
Southcott (2009) carried out a phenomenological case study, exploring the experiences of
older choir participants. Southcott’s case study illustrated the perception amongst participants
that choir membership supported well-being, providing a sense of purpose, fulfillment,
personal growth and a context where they could maintain social relationships. In short, there
has been a steadily growing interest in the relationship of music with social, emotional,
cognitive and physical well-being amongst older people (see Coffman, 2002; Sixsmith &
Gibson, 2007).
Musical progression during the Third and Fourth Ages
The benefits of music making in older age are not only related to well-being. There is some
evidence that musical development and progression are entirely possible for older people
(Prickett, 2003), although Coffman (2009) reported that band directors who worked with
older people generally held the view that there were limits with regard to musical progression
amongst their older adult participants. Some research has, however, demonstrated the
motivation and potential amongst older people to acquire increasingly complex musical skills
(Gibbons, 1985), progressing as instrumentalists (see Bruhn, 2002). Older people, according
to Gibbons (1984, 1985), can learn (or re-learn) new musical skills when facilitated in groups
where they are treated as capable and functioning adults.
Gibbons (1982) tested musical aptitude amongst a group of 182 non-institutionalised people
over the age of 65. No significant differences between the youngest and oldest participants
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
were found on the Music Aptitude Profile (Gordon, 1965). Gibbons (1985) concluded that
‘elderly persons have innate capacities for musical development and those capacities are
maintained with age’ (p. 49). Taylor (2011) adds that ‘older people can continue to develop
musically’, claiming that this is ‘evidenced by continuing plasticity of the brain and
receptivity to instrumental music learning that can counterbalance their reduced efficiency of
memory, motor skills, sight and hearing’ (p. 346). In keeping with the view that older people
selectively invest their resources in the attainment of important goals (Schindler, Staudinger
& Nesselroade, 2006), Krampe (1997) reported that when older pianists invested time in
deliberate practising there was no evidence of age-related decline in expertise.
Listening to music
Research that has been concerned with the role of music in the lives of ‘well’ older adults
suggests that older people experience positive emotions and increased relaxation through
listening to music (Gabrielsson, 2002). There is some evidence that listening to music may
even contribute to increased longevity; Byrgen, Konlaan, and Johansson (1996) carried out a
longitudinal study with a sample of 12,675 Swedish people, reporting that attendance at
cultural events (including listening to music) had a positive influence on survival.
Laukka (2007) surveyed 500 Swedish people aged 65 to 75 about their everyday music
listening habits and motives for listening. The survey also included personality and well-
being measures. Listening to music was found to form part of many everyday activities,
represented a frequent source of positive emotions and was positively related to
psychological well-being. The results suggested that participants experienced significantly
enhanced positive well-being when they used music for mood regulation, to nurture identity
and agency and for enjoyment.
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
Music and social networks
Notwithstanding the positive benefits that may be derived from listening to music, noted
above, active group music making within community contexts may be a particularly powerful
context for enhancing health and well-being for older adults as they move through the Third
and Fourth ages. It is known that social networks support prolonged personal engagement in
both optional and obligatory domains and also may have the potential to impact upon
physiological and psychological health (e.g. Cohen & Doyle, 1997; Smith & Christakis,
2008), decrease the risk of dementia (Cacioppo & Berntson, 2002) and increase happiness
amongst the individual members (Fowler & Christakis, 2009). Social networks that focus on
participation in creative, active and social leisure activities such as music have been found to
contribute to recovery from depression and maintenance of personal well-being (Fullagar,
2008). There is some evidence, too, of the social and emotional value for senior citizens who
participate in intergenerational group music activities (Bowers, 1998; Darrow, Johnson &
Ollenberger, 1994) and community music education programmes (Kalthoft, 1990).
Songwriting
Allison (2008) highlighted the role of music in constructing a sense of community within a
nursing home context. Allison’s ethnographic study was carried out within a nursing home in
the USA where 430 residents had access to a rich programme of musical opportunities,
including concerts, choir rehearsals, visiting musicians, sing-a-longs and music as part of
worship. Her study focused on a songwriting group of approximately 30 members, with an
average age of 87, who met every four to six weeks for intensive facilitated songwriting
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
sessions. Physical and cognitive functional limitations represented in the group ranged from
total physical independence and intact cognition to significant physical dependence and
dementia. The group’s goal was to ‘write a good song’ (p. 235) through a consensual group
process. Facilitators adopted a collaborative approach, underpinned by a commitment to
respecting the wisdom of the group and exploring the knowledge and insight of the
participants. Participants drew on experiences of their whole lives, demonstrating great
diversity within the group yet also constructing a common heritage. As the sessions
progressed, Allison noted increased animation and a sense of ownership amongst the
participants. She concluded that the songwriting group offered creative and intellectual
challenges that enabled participants to remain vibrant, creative and productive. Through
songwriting participants continued to develop, learning new skills and producing tangible
cultural outputs that became an enduring part of the culture of the residential community.
Singing
Clift, Nicol, Raisbeck, Whitmore and Morrison (2010) reviewed 48 studies concerned with
the benefits of group singing, of which eight included samples of older people aged over 50.
Overall, these studies suggested that group singing could promote social and personal well-
being, encourage social participation and reduce anxiety and depression (Houston, McKee,
Carroll, & Marsh, 1998; Lally, 2009; Sandgren, 2009; Wise, Hartmann, & Fisher, 1992;
Zanini & Leao, 2006).
In the USA Cohen et al. (2006, 2007) carried out non-randomised controlled studies with 166
participants with a mean age of 80. Over the course of one year these participants were
involved in 30 singing workshops and ten performances. The participants, in comparison with
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
control groups, reported fewer health issues, fewer falls, fewer doctor visits and less use of
medication. In the UK, Hillman (2002) surveyed 75 participants who took part in a
community singing project since reaching the statutory retirement age; 71% of the survey
respondents had been involved for between seven and eleven years. Long-term benefits
attributed to participation in music included overall improvements to the quality of life and
no overall deterioration in physical health.
Langston and Barrett (2008) carried out in-depth interviews with 27 members of a
community choir in regional Tasmania, the majority of whom were retired. The choir was
found to be a strong community resource, fostering trust, learning, interaction, participation,
civic involvement and fellowship. In a similar vein, Wood’s (2010) ethnographic study of a
choir comprising 22 senior (aged approximately 68) Russian immigrants portrayed the choir
as an empowering and rich expressive space’ where choir members ‘were able not only to
change how they thought about their everyday reality, but also to change that reality’ (p.
167).
Instrumental music making
Much of the research related to participation in music in older age has focused on singing
activities, possibly due to a perception that learning to play instruments is the privilege of
younger people. However, active engagement with making music in instrumental groups has,
like singing, been found to be associated with a range of positive outcomes. Gembris (2008)
used questionnaires to explore the function of amateur instrumental playing amongst a group
of 308 participants aged between 40 and 97. Participants were recruited from 43 seniors’
orchestras in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Enjoyment, happiness and community
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
belongingness were attributed to their musical engagement. Although many reported age-
related constraints, they also identified physical, mental and musical compensatory strategies
and generally maintained a high musical self-concept.
Saarikallio (2011) carried out a qualitative study of 21 Finnish adults aged 21 to 70,
investigating the use of music (listening as well as active participation) for emotional self-
regulation. The results suggested that for the ten participants older than 65, singing or
participating in instrumental ensembles offered opportunities for progression, enjoyment,
alleviating loneliness and coping with the challenges of ageing. Participation was also found
to add a depth of meaning to life. Across all of the age groups strategies for emotional
regulation were similar and included ‘happy mood maintenance, revival, strong sensation,
diversion, discharge, mental work, solace, and psyching up’ (p. 6).
Some studies have focused on adult piano students, investigating the motivational factors and
positive outcomes associated with commitment to this activity. For example, Zelazny (2001)
reported decreased arthritic pain, increased dexterity and increased finger strength amongst
four older pianists who, over the course of four weeks, undertook 30-minute sessions of
electronic keyboard playing for four days per week. Jutras (2006) carried out a study
involving 711 piano students aged 24 to 94, investigating the personal, skill, social and
cultural benefits of piano study. The questionnaire results indicated that participants placed
the highest value on enhanced skills that they developed through piano study, including
musicianship, theory, musical knowledge and piano skills. Personal benefits were also noted.
These included the fulfillment of dreams, personal growth, accomplishment, self-fulfillment,
fun and alleviation of stress.
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
Taylor and Hallam (2008) used qualitative methods to explore musical identity construction
amongst a group of six keyboard learners aged over 60, reporting that learning a musical
instrument contributed to feelings of satisfaction, achievement and self-confidence. The six
participants in this study described their current music making as a means of reconnecting
with youth and of feeling empowered. The six keyboard players also demonstrated resilience
when recalling past disappointments in music, suggesting that facilitators can support older
adults in reframing perceptions of themselves as unmusical or incapable of engaging in active
music making.
In a similar vein, Pike (2011) carried out a mixed method longitudinal study following the
progress of a MIDI piano ensemble comprising 35 participants aged 65 to 95. Participants in
the MIDI group worked towards individual goals within a context where the emphasis was on
collaboration, peer learning and celebrating achievements with outreach performance
opportunities. Over the course of the six-year study Pike noted several developments in the
ensemble, including: a marked improvement in musical quality and ensemble cohesiveness; a
palpable sense of belonging, and; high value placed on peer support and modeling.
The therapeutic power of music
The power of listening to music for therapeutic purposes has been investigated. For example,
Hanser and Thompson (1994) used an experimental design to test whether listening to music
could alleviate depression amongst older people. Thirty adults aged 61 to 86 who had been
diagnosed with depression but were otherwise in fairly good health were randomly assigned
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
to one of three groups. Two experimental groups were (a) taught music listening stress
reduction techniques during home visits, and (b) supported over the telephone in learning
these techniques, which included gentle movement to music, relaxation and facial massage to
music and guided imagery. The control group received no intervention. The music was
chosen by participants and included rhythmic pieces to enhance energy as well as slow
repetitive pieces deemed to be appropriate for deep relaxation. After eight weeks significant
improvements in depression, distress, self esteem and mood were found amongst both
experimental groups, as compared with control group. These improvements appeared to be
persistent, being in evidence nine months after the original intervention.
Some research has demonstrated the benefits that may be derived from musical therapeutic
interventions with older people suffering from, for example, dementia. Here, participation in
musical activitieseven in the late stages of the diseasehas been reported to be an
alternative to pharmacological treatments (Prickett, 2000; Sixsmith & Gibson, 2007).
Singing, instrumental playing and movement to music have reportedly been associated with
physical, social, emotional and cognitive improvements. For example, short-term increases in
positive mood, sociability and self-confidence have been reported (Lesta & Petocz, 2006;
Svansdottir & Snaedal, 2006) and music has been reported to support walking patterns
amongst dementia sufferers (Clair & O’Konski, 2006).
There has been considerable interest in the power of music to protect against cognitive
decline. Tesky, Thiel, Banzer and Pantel (2011) report on an intervention programme
involving 208 German participants with a median age of 71. The programme comprised of
education about dementia and support as well as daily engagement with a range of activities
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
that included reading, playing games and playing music. None of the participants had any
history of cognitive decline. Positive effects on cognitive function and attitude toward ageing
were found for some sub-groups; Fourth Age participants showed enhanced speed of
information processing, while their Third Age peers showed an improvement in subjective
memory decline.
Hilliard (2004) investigated the value of music in end of life hospice care for nursing home
residents. An ex post facto design was adopted, comparing: one group of 40 older people
(with a mean age of 74) who, as part of their end of life care, had received regular visits from
a music therapist, with; a second group who had not. Music therapy, in the form of singing
with instrumental accompaniment, instrument playing and rhythmic and vocal improvisation,
was found to have made a significant contribution in meeting emotional, spiritual, social and
physiological needs of the older people.
Summary of the literature reviewed
Research concerned with the potential for music to contribute to quality of life or well-being
during the latter phases of the life-course suggests that active participation in a range of
musical activities may contribute to enhanced cognitive, social and emotional well-being.
Studies report that such positive benefits are derived from music making within both
therapeutic and non-therapeutic settings. While some positive benefits have been attributed to
passive listening, it is active music makingespecially that which takes place within the
context of social networksthat seems to be particularly salient. While music making for
older people is often strongly associated with singing, there is evidence that positive
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
outcomes may be derived from diverse musical activities, including song-writing and
instrumental performance.
Case study: Music for Life Project
Aims of the study
Between 2009 and 2011 Hallam et al. (2011) carried out the Music for Life Project,
investigating the social, emotional and cognitive benefits of community music making
amongst older people. The aims of the project were: to explore the ways in which
participating in creative music making could enhance the lives of older people; to consider
the extent to which active engagement with music making influenced social, emotional and
cognitive well-being; and to explore the specific process through which any such impact
would occur.
Methods
Three case study sites acted as partners in the research: The Sage, Gateshead; Westminster
Adult Education Service; and the Connect programme at the Guildhall School of Music. The
three sites all offered musical activities for older people, but differed in some respects. The
Sage, Gateshead offered an extensive programme of choirs and instrumental groups
facilitated by community musicians. Some activities took place in the Sage, Gatesheadan
iconic arts centre and concert hallwhile others took place in outreach locations in the
surrounding area. The Music Department of the Westminster Adult Education Service was a
more formal adult learning context, offering choirs, music appreciation classes and keyboard
classes. Finally, the Guildhall Connect programme offered creative intergenerational music
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
workshops within sheltered housing centres, delivered by facilitators who had been trained as
community outreach music leaders. Overall, the musical activities engaged with included
singing in small and large groups, rock groups, and classes for guitar, ukulele, steel pans,
percussion, recorder, keyboard and music appreciation. A control group was made up of
individuals attending language classes (four groups); art/craft classes (five groups); yoga;
social support (two groups); a book group, and; a social club.
The research was undertaken using a variety of methods including:
Questionnaires for participants, music (n = 398) and non-music (n = 102), at the
beginning of the research including the CASP-12 measure of quality of life and the
Basic Psychological Needs Scale (Deci & Ryan, 2010).
Questionnaires for music participants at the end of the 9 month period (n = 143).
Individual interviews with music participants (n = 30).
Focus group interviews with music participants (15 focus group interviews).
Videos and observations of music sessions (45 videos, notes made of 25 sessions).
Videos and observations of musical performances (3).
Data relating to drop-outs from musical activities (records of the participating
providers).
Questionnaires for music facilitators including two scales (assessment of views of
successful leadership, Basic Needs Satisfaction at Work scale (Deci & Ryan, 2010)
Interviews with music facilitators (12).
Interviews with area co-ordinators of Age UK (responses representing the views of
over 40 people concerned with the welfare of older people in all three partner areas).
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
Eighty percent of the musical group sample was female and the majority was white, despite
attempts of the research team to recruit members of a range of ethnic minority groups. The
age range was 50 to 93 with 246 members of the music group in the Third Age and 92 in the
Fourth Age (60 did not state their age). The majority of those participating in the music
groups had been involved in professional occupations. There was no statistically significant
difference in this respect between the music participants and those in the other groups.
Seventy-six percent of those in the musical groups had some kind of prior experience with
actively making music in singing or instrumental groups. Twenty-nine percent classed
themselves as musical beginners. Only 4% described themselves as ‘very good’, while the
remainder described themselves as either average or good. Seventy three percent indicated
that they could read music but for most this was at a basic level. Only 8% reported that they
had ‘very good’ reading skills.
The participants in the control groups were asked how important music was in their lives.
Eleven percent reported that music played a central role in their lives; for the remainder
music had ‘no importance’ or they ‘listened to music from time to time’.
Quality of life and well-being
The Music for Life Project adopted a needs satisfaction approach to the measurement of
quality of life amongst the older people who participated in the research. This approach is
underpinned by a belief that quality of life, and specifically subjective well-being, may be
assessed in relation to the extent to which basic universal and innate psychological needs are
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
met. In this research we adopted the CASP-12 measure which was developed in the UK
specifically for use with older populations (Wiggins, Netuveli, Hyde, Higgs & Blane, 2008).
The CASP-12 quality of life measure is a four point Likert scale, comprising twelve
individual items that are organised into four subscales. The sub-scales on this index of quality
of life include control and autonomy, which are conceptualised as the drivers for the other
two sub-scales that are self-realisation and pleasure.
Deci and Ryan’s (2000, 2010) general Basic Psychological Needs scale was also used, for the
purpose of triangulation. This seven point Likert scale is conceptually similar to the CASP-
12, comprising 21 items organized into sub-scales for control, autonomy and relatedness.
Overall, it was deemed that these two scales together would provide a robust measure of
quality of life, focusing on cognitive, emotional and social well-being.
Findings: Measures of well-being
There were statistically significant differences with regard to the quantitative measures
between those participating in the musical and non-musical groups. Consistently, more
positive responses were found amongst the musical groups. In order to ascertain whether the
two quantitative measures shared underlying conceptual constructs, a factor analysis was
undertaken using the items from the CASP-12 and the Basic Psychological Needs Scale. This
produced three factors. The first related to having a positive outlook on life (purpose), the
second to lack of autonomy and control (autonomy/control), and the third to positive social
relationships, competence and a sense of recognised accomplishment (social affirmation).
Comparisons of those engaged in music making with those participating in other activities
revealed statistically significant differences on all three factors with the music groups having
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
more positive responses. Comparisons of those in the Third and Fourth age in the music
groups revealed no differences in relation to factors relating to autonomy/control or social
affirmation, although there was a deterioration in relation to sense of purpose.
The perceived benefits of group activities
High ratings were given by those participating in music and non-music groups to a series of
statements relating to the benefits of group participation, including:
sustaining well-being, quality of life and reducing stress;
acquiring new skills;
providing opportunities for mental activity and intellectual stimulation;
promoting social activity and involvement in the community;
providing opportunities for demonstrating skills and helping others; and
maintaining physical health.
There were no statistically significant differences in response to the elements outlined above
between music and non-music groups. However, those participating in the music groups
reported higher levels of enjoyment. A multiple regression analysis revealed that for those
involved in musical activities (but not for those involved in other activities), high scores for
the third well-being factorsocial affirmationwere predicted by strong agreement that
participation in their groups (a) provided opportunities to remain involved with the
community, (b) were intellectually stimulating, (c) helped to manage stress, and (d) provided
opportunities for performance.
Benefits attributed to engagement with music
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
In accordance with much of the literature cited elsewhere in this paper, the individual and
focus group interviews with participants and facilitators revealed a range of perceived
benefits of active musical engagement including those related to social activity, cognition,
emotional and mental health and physical health.
Social benefits included a sense of belonging, a sense of playing a valued and vital role
within a community, having fun and having contact with younger people in intergenerational
groups. Participants also noted that being a member of a musical group helped to provide a
routine and structure to their daily lives, providing motivation for leaving the house and for
engaging in daily individual practice. Those who participated in intergenerational activities
reported that it was fun and enjoyable, challenged stereotypes, and facilitated peer learning
and the sharing of expertise.
Cognitive benefits included rising to new challenges, acquiring new skills, improved
concentration and memory and a general sense of achievement related to their
accomplishments in music making. Progression played a key role in underpinning these
benefits. Participants spoke of how they valued remaining mentally agile and how they
derived great pride in their musical competencies and achievements.
Participants and facilitators also noted many examples of improved mental and physical
health. Physical health benefits included a renewed sense of vitality and rejuvenation and
improved mobility. Many mental health benefits were also reported, including protection
against stress and depression, a sense of purpose in life, enhanced confidence, positive
feelings about life in general and support following bereavement. Overall, when questioned
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
about what was special about music as opposed to other activities, many participants
attributed positive benefits to the creative and expressive qualities of music.
For some, music was a vehicle for redefining one’s identity or rediscovering a lost ‘possible
self’. Through music making participants developed, or in some cases rekindled, a strong
musical identity. Some participants now considered themselves to be musicians.
After retiring at 59, I now (65 now) consider that I have become a musician. I write songs, I
perform and I play guitar.
At first when I started playing thisbecause I have never seen a ukulele before . . . at first it
was like this foreign object and it was so difficult and suddenly one day I thought ‘it feels like
part of me’ and I don’t have to look any more.
This musical self-concept was bolstered by a sense of being part of a community of
musicians, by having performed with their professional musician facilitators and because they
spent many hours making music and practising. Participants also referred to how they thought
others perceived them; being a musician was a new role, bringing with it interest and
importance.
Relatives, friends, some of them are quite intrigued. . . . they think you are a wonderful
singer.
Opportunities for performance played a major role in the perceived benefits constituting a
means of receiving position affirmation from others. For many participants performances
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
offered an important opportunity to ‘be a musician’, sharing the results of their hard work
with friends and relatives. Performances were opportunities for positive feedback and
contributed significantly to a strong musical self-concept.
I can now sing in tune and I am so excited and longing for our gala concert and to hear my
family’s reaction. No one else in the family has done anything like this.
First we sing as a choir, then on our own. It gives me, at my age [tearful] I’m 85, it gives me
a great feeling inside me that I can sing.
I get a sense of achievement from participation especially when we perform for an audience.
Some participants did not enjoy performances when they perceived these to be limited, token
gestures rather than serious and valued musical events. While performances seemed to be a
significant part of the participants’ individual and collective musical journeys, it was
important that participants perceived their contribution to be valued and meaningful.
Supporting participation and overcoming barriers
Although there were very few drop-outs amongst the music participants, a number of
potential barriers to participation were identified. Structural barriers were those that related
to physical access to facilities, perceptions of the location as being too elitist, financial
constraints and time of day (daytime was preferable). Information barriers were also
identified; it was apparent that many participants had come across information about music
sessions purely by chance and there did not seem to be any systematic knowledge or place
that older people could access reliable information about what was available in their area.
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
Some personal and social barriers were also identified, including caring responsibilities,
social orientations and personal interest, willingness to socialise, confidence and motivation.
Several suggestions were made with regard to how the barriers might be overcome. First and
foremost, it was emphasised that music sessions needed to be welcoming and inclusive, led
by facilitators who established mutually respectful communication and set challenging tasks
that took account of the prior experience their adult participants brought to the group. It was
also thought that care had to be taken over ensuring that the physical context was accessible,
for example making use of outreach locations. Finally, pastoral support (for example, ‘buddy’
systems, time for socialising) was thought to be vitally important in helping individuals to
develop confidence and motivation to attend group sessions.
Summary: The power of music in the lives of older people
Within the context of our ageing global population, we cannot afford to ignore the protective
and enriching power of music in the lives of older people. There is substantial evidence that
throughout the Third and Fourth Ages older peopleincluding both the ‘well’ old and those
constrained by age-related conditionsare able to engage with music, establish musical
identities and develop as musicians.
Listening to music has been found to provide a source of positive emotion and to contribute
to psychological well-being. However, it is active engagement with music within social
settings that has the greatest potential to contribute greatly to fulfillment of basic
psychological needs. Music making offers a sense of purpose, as well as a degree of
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
autonomy and control in the lives of those who participate. Musical activities also offer a
source of social affirmation whereby group collaboration and sense of community relies on
individual contributions that are valued and celebrated. Music offers a medium through
which older people can re-connect with their youth, experience vitality and feel empowered.
Above all else, music making is a joyful and creative activity that all humans, regardless of
age, have an entitlement to. It is incumbent on music educators, researchers and all those
with an interest in caring for older people to advocate for high quality, accessible musical
opportunities throughout the life-course.
Acknowledgements
This research was part of the New Dynamics of Aging programme, which was funded across
the five UK research councils: AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC.
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Author Biography
Dr Andrea Creech (PhD, MA, BMus, FHEA, LTCL, Dip Psych (Open) is Senior Lecturer in
Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. Following a career as an
orchestral musician in Canada and the UK, she was director of a Community Music School in
the Republic of Ireland, developing programmes for learners of all ages. Since completing
her PhD in Psychology in Music Education, Andrea has been project manager and principal
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (online first 21 March 2013).
The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music
Education, 35(1), 83 - 98.
investigator for funded research projects in the areas of musical development across the
lifespan, pedagogy and music and well-being. Andrea has presented at international
conferences and published widely, including chapters in the Oxford Handbook of Music
Psychology and the Oxford Handbook of Music Education as well as a co-edited book that
provides an overview of the current state of music education in the UK (Hallam, S., &
Creech, A. (Eds.). 2010. Music education in the 21st century in the United Kingdom:
Achievements, analysis and aspirations. London: Institute of Education, London). She is a
Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, secretary for the British Psychological Society
Education Section, Board member of the International Society for Music Education and is on
the editorial board of the International Journal of Music Education (Practice) and Music
Performance Research.
... Currently, non-pharmacological therapies that help to prevent cognitive decline are increasingly being sought. Music offers great potential for improving well-being in older people and their health [3], with music therapy being a strategy used for the prevention of cognitive decline and in those already suffering from mild cognitive impairment. Beer [4] defends music therapy as a non-pharmacological therapy that is attractive due to its benefits in the treatment of pathologies such as dementia and its symptoms, being a costeffective type of intervention. ...
... Music therapy and music-related activities foster enjoyment, socialization, wellbeing, and the improvement of mental health in older people. The elderly are increasingly prone to isolation and suffering from pathologies related to mental health such as, among other things, depression [3]. ...
... It is an increasingly studied tool in the field of alternative medicine. Music therapies delay the onset of cognitive decline in older people, as well as helping those who already suffer from it [3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19]. ...
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... Uma das ideias mais marcantes da investigação sobre a intervenção musical com esta população prende-se com o posicionamento da prática musical como um contexto propício a um envelhecimento positivo e criativo (Creech et al., 2013;Bishop, 2018), designadamente quando integrada em práticas sociais de base comunitária (Creech et al., 2018). Procurando articular, direta ou indiretamente, a associação entre Qualidade de Vida e criatividade nos processos de aprendizagem e participação musicais no envelhecimento, a investigação sobre a ação tem demonstrado que a participação em atividades musicais tais como a audição, interpretação e criação, podem influenciar a perceção dos mais velhos acerca da qualidade das suas vidas (Biasutti et al., 2020), incluindo no gerar de emoções positivas, no envolvimento, nos relacionamentos, e num sentido de significado e concretização (Creech et al., 2020). ...
... Saber usufruir dos momentos de interação social e das oportunidades de aprendizagem, expressão, envolvimento, participação e criação musical, cultural e de lazer, em práticas sociais e artísticas de base comunitária (Creech et al., 2013(Creech et al., , 2018, foi entendido como fundamental para manterem e criarem interesses mais duradouros, e enriquecerem as suas vidas Veblen (2018). ...
... In this regard, previous studies have also indicated that music plays a significant and essential role as it helps to maintain a sense of personal and social identity in old age (DeNora, 2000;Gabrielsson, 2002;MacDonald et al., 2002). Furthermore, music can evoke self-reflections of personal life events, illuminate hidden aspects of one's personality, and revive hidden emotions through reminiscing (Clements-Cortés, 2017;Creech et al., 2013;Dassa, 2018). However, the literature regarding group interventions with community-dwelling older adults is only comprised of studies on choirs and on community singing activities, and none on vocal improvisations with older adults (Cohen et al., 2007;Hays & Minichiello, 2005). ...
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Background: Vocal improvisation is known as beneficial in promoting well-being, yet not much is known about using vocal improvisation with healthy older adults. While the emphasis in music therapy on studying interventions with clinical populations of older adults is important, the challenges and stressors facing healthy older adults require more investigation. Methods: This qualitative study analyzed the experiences of 54 older adults, ranging between 60 and 93 years (M=71.07), who participated in 12 weekly vocal improvisation group meetings that incorporated various voice improvisation techniques. Data was gathered using qualitative semi-structured group interviews with 12 focus groups (pre- and post-intervention). Results: A qualitative content analysis revealed that the vocal improvisations created the sense of an open space where participants could express and explore their own voices. The intervention has changed their attitudes regarding their own voices and led to meaningful personal experiences and new self-discoveries. The participants described experiencing a significant emotional process during the group work and reported experiencing self-exploration, and improvements in their self-beliefs, attitudes regarding their own voices, and their well-being. Conclusions: Vocal improvisation group intervention was experienced as beneficial for the well-being of healthy community-dwelling older adults.
... Choirs and singing groups are known to promote wellbeing in both well and frail seniors (Cohen et al., 2006;Creech et al., 2013;Johnson, et al. 2018;Johnson et al, 2020). Singing -particularly in groups or choirs -has emerged as a creative, life participation approach for people living with aphasia (Holland and Elman, 2020). ...
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K. Warner Schaie I am pleased to write a foreword for this interesting volume, particularly as over many years, I have had the privilege of interacting with the editors and a majority of the con­ tributors in various professional roles as a colleague, mentor, or research collaborator. The editors begin their introduction by asking why one would want to read yet another book on human development. They immediately answer their question by pointing out that many developmentally oriented texts and other treatises neglect the theoretical foundations of human development and fail to embed psychological constructs within the multidisciplinary context so essential to understanding development. This volume provides a positive remedy to past deficiencies in volumes on hu­ man development with a well-organized structure that leads the reader from a general introduction through the basic processes to methodological issues and the relation of developmental constructs to social context and biological infrastructure. This approach does not surprise. After all, the editors and most of the contributors at one time or an­ other had a connection to the Max Planck Institute of Human Development in Berlin, whether as students, junior scientists, or senior visitors. That institute, under the leader­ ship of Paul Baltes, has been instrumental in pursuing a systematic lifespan approach to the study of cognition and personality. Over the past two decades, it has influenced the careers of a generation of scientists who have advocated long-term studies of human development in an interdisciplinary context.
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