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15 September 2016

Is singing good news for care homes?

Evan Dawson, Live Music Now
Evan Dawson, Executive Director of Live Music Now, describes Live Music Now's A Choir in Every Care Home project.

Live Music Now took on a project last year 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 ambitious (if 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 (including Care England, the Mental Health Foundation, the National Care Forum and many more). It was a unique collaboration, and a huge opportunity to make a positive difference to the lives of older people on a significant 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). Amongst those who have supported the work is Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care for the Care Quality Commission. She 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 amongst 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.”

After this year’s work, we have come a very long way, but there is still a long way to go! Together with the Baring Foundation, we are now planning the next steps in the journey, which might include further dissemination of the toolkits, some practical roll out within care homes and communities, training and support for musicians and carers, and perhaps a large-scale campaign. All with the ultimate goal to enable every single one of the UK’s care homes to become a singing home! Over the coming months, I will be discussing the work at several conferences, including the Musicians Union, the National Care Forum, the Wellcome Trust and even at an event in Australia.

All the resources and toolkits, together with 350 pages of research data and findings, are available at . You can follow our progress there, and sign up for updates.

Evan Dawson is Executive Director of Live Music Now, the UK charity founded in 1977 to bring high quality music to care homes, hospitals, special schools and more. They have specialist programmes to bring music to people with dementia, or those who are experiencing loneliness. More information at

Evan Dawson, Executive Director of Live Music Now

Views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of the Baring Foundation