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Creative pursuits: Music

Posted on 15/10/2013

Music is very powerful. It can be invigorating, relaxing, calming and joyful, and certain songs can trigger memories through association. Its therapeutic benefits have been known for a long time and there is no reason to ever have to give up a love of music.

You can get involved in music through either singing, or playing an instrument. There are workshops to help you learn or continue with a discipline, and there are plenty of community choirs and bands that are looking for members.

Many residential care homes will offer a musical program, whether this is through performers coming in or residents taking part, as song can have such an uplifting effect. In fact, there is even a competition called Care Home Idol, which showcases the best performances from residents across the country.

Even if you aren't particularly musical yourself, there are plenty of concerts and events that you could attend, and you will be able to find community groups that arrange trips to these so that you can go with other people and make it a social experience. 

The benefits

Playing an instrument or learning to sing a song are tasks that rely on memory and coordination, which will help to keep the brain active. Music is also a great way to prevent loneliness, both because of the mood it promotes, but also because getting involved with local groups can help you to make new friends.

Some studies have shown that exposure to musical activities can help with positive ageing, helping with independence, self-esteem and confidence. It can also help with preventing depression and other mental illnesses.

An Age UK poll in 2013 found that over half of people aged 50 or more said music was their favourite sound. 

Interview with... Adrian Bawtree

Adrian Bawtree

Adrian is the Creative Director of Sing For Your Life, which supports the health and wellbeing of older people using musical activities, in particular singing.

You’re the Boss: Can you tell us a bit about your company and what you do. What are your Silver Song Clubs and how do they work? 

Adrian Bawtree: Sing For Your Life is a registered charity and in 2005 was created out of the research undertaken by the Sydney de Haan Research Centre based in Canterbury Christ Church University. This research focused on the mental health and general wellbeing benefits of group participatory singing for older people, including those living with dementia. The original model was the Silver Song Club, which was a series of singing groups run by a professional facilitator and helped by volunteers. This was all supported by the NHS and local authorities… then came the financial crisis of 2008!

Silver Song Clubs are still free access to all; the charity pays for the professional facilitator. We now currently run around 10 Silver Song Clubs in the community (attendance varies from 25-60 people). Below are the identified 11 outcomes that should occur in any singing session. You will see that client leadership is an important part, which also provides an opportunity for social inclusion and even reminiscence.

Initiate one-to-one welcoming; encourage social interaction; encourage client leadership; give free choice; encourage shared performance; provide progressive learning outcomes; cover multicultural material; invoke memories; provide platforms for reminiscence dialogue; stimulate fine motor skills; stimulate grand motor skills.

We have two groups that perform from time to time, but we focus more on the 'activity' rather than 'performance'. Our groups are (and should be) quite distinct from a choir rehearsing regularly for a concert. 

You’re the Boss: What is the Silver Song Music Box, and what are its benefits? 

Adrian Bawtree: Thanks to the final crisis of 2008 we faced two challenges: to reduce costs and to react to the Care Quality Commission’s requirement to provide more therapeutic and cost-effective activities for residents. So we developed ‘The Silver Song Music Box’ which is a 21st century equivalent of the player piano, the likes of which would have sat in people’s parlours or in the bar. This equipment, combined with the ‘singalong’ programmes we have developed, allow for the simple delivery of these beneficial participatory singing sessions in an affordable way by training activity staff and local volunteers who may have had no formal musical training. In other words, it is ultimately more cost effective to 'skill-up' staff and volunteers rather than always having to rely on 'buying-in'.

You’re the Boss: Why is music and song so good for older people? 

Adrian Bawtree: There have been many studies on the benefits of singing generally - in particular for older people. We have undertaken the first ever randomised controlled trial of the benefits of singing for older people. The key findings included:

Measures of health were consistently higher among the singing group following the singing programme than among the non-singing group

Three months after the singing groups stopped the participants continued to be higher on measures of health

Participants in the singing groups reported social, emotional and physical health benefits from taking part

Singing groups for older people are likely to be cost-effective as a health promotion strategy

You’re the Boss: How can people get involved with Sing for your Life? 

Adrian Bawtree: We are just developing a volunteer programme in Sussex, which if successful we will be pushing out around the whole country. Best visit our website and contact us and we are on Facebook and Twitter



Sing For Your Life

Sing For Your Life runs Silver Song Clubs, which are regular sessions of singing and music making for older people and, where appropriate, their carers. Over 1,500 people attend a Silver Song Club, where sessions involve singing, movement and percussion for 90 minutes, with a refreshment break. The music and songs are familiar and selected to help stimulate memories. The company also provides the Silver Song Music Box, which helps to continue the benefits of the song club sessions by allowing residential care homes to provide more sessions. It provides a piano backing track and the words to songs presented clearly on a television screen. There are plenty of songs to choose from.

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