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Keeping the music alive in aged care


Listening to and making music is vital to enabling aged care residents to continue to be creative and make a contribution, according to a visiting international expert.

Andrea Creech, a professor in music education at the Université Laval in Canada is presenting about creative and resilient ageing in and through music at the International Arts and Health Conference in Sydney this month.

While society recognised and to a large extent met the human need to be cared for and to belong, it often forgot the importance of making a contribution, feeling valued and being creative, she said.

“My stepfather once explained to me that the music stopped when he entered residential care. Whereas music had been ubiquitous in his life, suddenly it was not there – replaced by the sounds of institutional routine,” Professor Creech said.

Music-making, which was in his case singing with his caregiver, a community musician and anyone who visited him in his aged care facility, made life bearable in the face of multiple challenges, she said.

Music builds resilience, is cognitively engaging and is associated with lasting effects on brain plasticity as well as with non-musical brain functions such as language and attention, Professor Creech said.

“Listening to music has been found to provide distraction from physical and emotional pain, but perhaps the most important point is that making music is both social and communicative and is strongly related to sustaining a sense of who we are.

“There is a wealth of research evidence and anecdotal evidence to suggest that lifelong learning is one of the key underpinning characteristics of positive ageing.”

Creative arts in Australian aged care

Pete McDonald (right) during a teaching session

Pete McDonald, who works full-time as a registered music therapist at HammondCare and other aged care services in NSW, ends each of his regular two-hourly 10-week workshops with a public concert for the participants’ family and friends.

“My approach to music-making in this fourth age has always been aimed at ensuring the participants of my sessions and workshops are involved in the music making physically with instruments and with their voices,“ Mr McDonald told Australian Ageing Agenda.

“Not only do we see the benefits in the social and cognitive realms, but also physical health benefits such as improved lung capacity.”

Mr McDondald, who has a Masters of Music Therapy, will bring the insights and skills from his background in practicing, performing, teaching, recording and composing music to a multidisciplinary interactive workshop at the conference.

The workshop will walk participants through conducting and evaluating an arts on prescription program for older people with a range of health and wellness needs.

The Arts on Prescription model, which was developed and trialled by HammondCare in partnership with the University of New South Wales, uses participatory arts programs alongside traditional health care to help older people improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

At the workshop, Mr McDonald will be joined by HammondCare head of research and aged care clinical services Professor Chris Poulos, Associate Professor Roslyn Poulos, a public health physician and academic at the University of New South Wales, and fellow artists Michelle Heldon and Annette Innis.

The International Arts and Health Conference takes place from 30 October – 1 November 2017 at the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney.

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