Is singing good news for care homes?

3 August 2016

By Evan Dawson, Executive Director, Live Music Now

About a year ago, Live Music Now took on a project to collect the evidence of how music participation can benefit older people, and what it might take to create a choir in every care home in the UK.

This rather daunting challenge was set us by the Baring Foundation. Rather than take it on alone, I assembled a partnership of organisations from the arts, care and academic sectors. We led it with Sound Sense and Canterbury Christ Church University, together with a working group of 33 national organisations. These included the Mental Health Foundation. It was a unique collaboration, and a huge opportunity to make a positive difference to the lives of older people on an ambitious scale. 

Over the course of a year’s intensive work, we completed surveys of over 400 care home staff and musicians, in-depth case studies, and the largest review of the academic literature ever, carried out by the Sidney De Haan Research Centre at Canterbury Christchurch University.

The findings from this first year of work were announced at the Arts In Care Conference on 24 May 2016, at an event jointly hosted by the National Care Forum and Care England. We were all very excited to share the evidence we’d collected about the power of singing for older people. It led us to recommend unequivocally that all care homes should introduce more music into the lives of their residents, staff and carers. Our case studies demonstrate that it can be done at relatively low cost, and everybody benefits (residents, staff and carers). There’s nothing else like it.

It has been received with great enthusiasm by the care sector, who are helping us circulate the recommendations (which include a toolkit with practical guidance for care home managers). Among those who have supported the work is Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care for the Care Quality Commission.

Andrea said: "Creativity and innovation are key ingredients in outstanding care homes, and regular singing and live music activities can help care homes positively address all five key questions our inspectors ask of care homes." We hope that such a strong statement from the regular might be influential among care homes that have not yet understood how important the arts can be to quality of life, which of course includes quality of end of life.

Of the research, Professor Stephen Clift says: "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 positive engage people across a spectrum of severity with dementia."

All the resources and toolkits, together with 350 pages of research data and findings, are available at www.achoirineverycarehome.co.uk.

After this year’s work, we have come a very long way, but there is still a long way to go! We are now planning a large-scale campaign, training and support programme to enable, over time, every single one of the UK’s care homes to become a singing home.