The United Nations has recently predicted that by 2050 the global population of people aged 60+ will increase from 605 million to 2 billion, with quadruple the number of people reaching 80 years of age compared with 2000. Switzerland ties with Japan for the longest life expectancy in the world at 83 years. While this is in many ways a success story in terms of health outcomes, it carries with it substantial social and economic challenges, including stress, depression, loneliness and social isolation and associated declines in health.
Consequently, new and innovative social programmes need to be established to contribute to the resilience of older adults. Art for Ages is an ambitious programme of research that is investigating the role of musical experience in enhancing the physical and mental wellbeing of older adults in nursing homes in Southern Switzerland. Specifically, it explores the function of music in the lives of older adults (Phase 1) and the psychological and physiological benefits of group music making on health and wellbeing (Phase 2). In short, the research seeks to establish the efficacy of music, compared with other physically and socially engaging activities, as a way of managing key medical, social and psychological conditions prevalent among older adults.
What is special about the project?
Art for Ages is the largest initiative of its kind worldwide and brings together a unique fusion of people and research methods:
- The research team represents a distinctive partnership of leading scientists, conservatoires, universities and arts/cultural organisations.
- By working directly within the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana and the Royal College of Music, the project draws upon extensive networks of musicians and links with health and social care institutions for older adults, with a view to building lasting relationships and instilling a social awareness and an understanding of how to use the arts at an early stage of professional development for musicians.
- Our programme of research draws on cutting-edge research methods, including a triangulation involving both quantitative and qualitative psychological data and the testing of salivary biomarkers to assess psychobiological response and correlates of health.
- Only one study in this field so far has taken place in Switzerland (Kejr et al., 2010; see Inflammation Research, vol. 59, pp. 217-218). The majority of other studies have been based in research centres in the UK, US and Asia. Art for Ages increases the presence of Swiss research in what is very much a growing area of international interest.
Overall, Art for Ages aims to provide a sustainable model of community music interventions to be implemented in Southern Switzerland and eventually further afield.
Art for Ages investigated the role of musical experience in enhancing the physical and mental wellbeing of older adults in nursing homes in Southern Switzerland. Specifically, we explored the function of music in the lives of older adults (Phase 1) and the benefits of group music making on their health and wellbeing (Phase 2). In short, the research has examined the efficacy of music, compared with other physically and socially engaging activities, as a way of managing key medical, social and psychological conditions
prevalent among older adults.
We found that many nursing home residents attended concerts, with 52.3% reporting going to one and 29.1% reporting going more than three times within the past year. This was only a marginal drop from the average annual attendance reported by residents before they moved into the nursing home, when 53.1% reported attending one each year and 34.6% reported attending more than three times per year. Comparing this with other activities, only 22.1% of residents had been to a museum or gallery within the past year, and only 8.2% had been to the theatre or cinema. This was a clear decrease from their activities before entering the nursing home, when 50% reported visiting museums per year and 52.4% attended the theatre or cinema per year. Our results suggests that music is an activity that remains of interest and relevance to nursing home residents in Southern Switzerland, even once other leisure activities decrease.
When reflecting on the benefits of music, 72.4% of residents reported that music triggered strong memories, 82.0% reported that it helped them feel more relaxed, 82.7% reported that it could be used to change their mood, and 79.3% reported that it helped them to feel less lonely. When asked whether they wished to have more music activities in their nursing homes, only 1.1% said “no”, 36.8% felt the current provision was adequate, and 3.4% reported not being well enough to engage. The remaining 58.7% asked for more music activities to be available. The most popular activity requested was for opportunities to listen to music (especially to live music), requested by 54.8% of residents, and opportunities to sing and play, requested by 30.8%.
Given the clear demand for more music, Phase 2 gave five participating nursing homes the opportunity to provide additional 10-week music programmes involving both group drumming and singing, alongside listening to performances of music. Compared with groups taking part in other 10-week programmes (reading, tombola or gym), we found a significant increase in self-reported “vitality” for the music groups. This improvement was not correlated with baseline musical listening or singing habits, or attitudes towards music, suggesting that benefits were felt by participants regardless of prior musical experience. There was also evidence that people with the lowest levels of vitality at the start of the 10-week programmes experienced the greatest improvement, which suggests that those most in need benefitted the most. Vitality is an important health construct, and in our study and others, it has been shown to correlate with other key health indicators and with lower levels of reported loneliness and depression.
As our study involved only a select number of nursing homes, the full impact of music and music-related activities on health among older adults across Switzerland remains to be investigated. Nevertheless, Art for Ages has highlighted several promising avenues through which older adults (and their carers) can use music to enhance health and wellbeing.
«Note per anima e corpo – Art for Ages, uno studio che esplora i benefici della musica sulla salute delle persone anziane», in La Regione Ticino (January 2016).
«Progetto del mese – Art for Ages, intervista ad Aaron Williamon», in Click In (January 2016).
«Why music? Live from Wellcome Collection», BBC Radio 3 (September 2015).
«New generation thinkers 2017», BBC Radio 3 (April 2017).
«Music is not a luxury, but a necessity», BBC Radio 3 (May 2017).
Persons involved in the project
Principal investigatorAaron Williamon
, Professor of Performance Science, Department of Research and Development, CSI, Centre for Performance Science, Royal College of Music, Imperial College London
Co-investigatorsPaola Di Giulio
, Professor of Nursing Department of Health Sciences, SUPSIStefano Cavalli
, Head of the Center of Competence on Aging (CCA) Department of Business Economics, Health and Social Care, SUPSI Hubert Eiholzer
, Vice-Director and Head of Research Department of Research and Development, CSI
Research associatesPaolo Paolantonio
, Department of Research and Development, CSI Daisy Fancourt
, Centre for Performance Science, Royal College of Music, Imperial College London
Last update to this project presentation 16.07.2020