An evaluation finds that interactive three-month musical programmes had “particularly strong effects upon people’s communication skills and mood”.

Musician playing a guitar in a care home
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Live Music Now

Regular participatory music programmes should be considered “essential for all UK care homes” because of the wellbeing boost they deliver to residents and staff alike, a new report argues.

An evaluation of projects across five care homes found that participating in and delivering three-month interventions can provide “positive social experiences as well as creative engagement, fun and a sense of achievement”.

The sessions were found to play a key role in “awakening a sense of identify and empowerment” for residents, as well as strengthening their relationships with staff and noticeably improving the overall atmosphere in homes.

Flourishing

The evaluation, produced by Live Music Now and the University of Winchester, examines the impact of 11-week programmes across five care homes. Residents took part in 45-minute weekly sessions, which were led by pairs of trained professional musicians, and focused on singing and the use of voice.

The benefits for residents included gratification gained through their musical contributions, better mood, and physical exercise through moving in response to the music. The effect on some was dramatic, moving people “from withdrawal to expression”.

The report notes one participant who was seen as being quiet before the residency. “Now she's much more open, communicative and confident and getting more involved. She is really flourishing and you can see that in a few of the residents,” reported a staff member.

Holistic

The report fills a gap by providing evidence that musical interventions can impact the care home environment as a whole, as well as individual older people. It finds that the “sense of connectedness” resulting from music sessions “modified the cultural climate of the care home and the behaviour of the residents”. The “pleasurable ambience” was noticed by visitors, encouraging some to extend the time they spent at the home.

The music programmes also lifted the mood of staff. “We observed a level of commitment from care staff seldom demonstrated in previous literature,” say the authors, who note that individual attitudes transformed “from reluctance at the start, to great enthusiasm”.

Through taking an active role in sessions, staff developed “heightened awareness of the residents’ needs” and “enthusiasm to promote and celebrate music beyond the residency”.

The clear support of care home managers is essential, says the report, because it “gives staff permission to step out of their transactional relationship with residents, and gives them new tools for their daily caring activities”.

Balance

But the report urges sensitivity when planning programmes, because some types of music have the potential to disturb residents.

Percussion instruments are not always appropriate, because they can make some people “confused and anxious”.

And having found that some residents withdrew from more complex rhythms or unfamiliar repertoire, the report recommends that schemes should balance these with simpler and less challenging music.

The authors say that to make the most of music interventions, strategic planning from the outset is necessary, to establish “an essential structure and definition of tasks”.

Key indicators

Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector at the Care Quality Commission, said the report was a “big step forward in showing what live music can do”.

“This is much more than simply entertainment,” added Sutcliffe. “If done well, live music can help care homes achieve all the key indicators of quality person-centred provision that CQC inspectors are looking for.”

Professor Martin Green, the Government’s Dementia Champion and CEO of Care England, also welcomed the evaluation, saying: “We have known for some time that carefully delivered music activities can provide significant benefits for people who live and work in care. At last, this important report presents rigorous evidence showing how music can impact on whole care settings, not just on individuals.”

The research follows on from the Choir in Every Care Home campaign, funded by the Baring Foundation, which between 2015 and 2017 explored creative ways that older people engage with music and why such opportunities were not more widely available.

 

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