This chapter provides an overview of international research evidence on the value of singing for the well-being and health of older people. It draws on a number of recent systematic reviews of the literature on singing, health and well-being, especially studies published over the last ten years. Particular attention is given to the value of singing for older people with long-term health conditions, including respiratory illness, Parkinson’s disease and stroke, people affected directly or indirectly by cancer and finally dementia. It notes an encouraging trend towards larger-scale, controlled studies with an emphasis on measurable outcomes supplemented by the gathering of narrative accounts from older people on the impacts that engagement in singing has had on their lives and a sense of personal and social well-being.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Ahessy, B 2016, ‘The use of a music therapy choir to reduce depression and improve quality of life in older adults: A randomised control trial’, Music & Medicine, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 17–28.
Bannan, N & Montgomery-Smith, C 2008, ‘Singing for the Brain: Reflections on the human capacity for music arising from a pilot study of group singing with Alzheimer’s patients, Perspectives in Public Health, vol. 128, no. 2, pp. 73–78.
BLF 2017, BLF singing project report, British Lung Foundation, London.
Buetow, S, Talmage, A, McCann, C, Fogg, L & Purdy, S 2014, ‘Conceptualizing how group singing may enhance quality of life with Parkinson’s disease’, Disability and Rehabilitation: A Multi-Disciplinary Journal, vol. 63, no. 5, pp. 430–433.
Bonilha, AG, Onofre, F, Vieira, ML, Prado, MYA & Martinez, JAB 2009, ‘Effects of singing classes on pulmonary function and quality of life of COPD patients’, International Journal of COPD, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 1–8.
Camic, P, Williams, C & Meeten, F 2013, ‘Does a ‘singing together’ group improve the quality of life of people with dementia and their carers? A pilot evaluation study’, Dementia, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 157–176.
Clark, I & Harding, K 2012, ‘Psychosocial outcomes of active singing interventions for therapeutic purposes: A systematic review of the literature’, Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 80–98.
Clements-Cortes, A 2013, ‘Buddy’s Glee Club: Singing for life’, Activities, Adaptation & Aging, vol. 37, no. 4, pp. 273–290.
Clements-Cortes, A 2014, ‘Buddy’s Glee Club 2: Choral singing benefits for older adults’, Canadian Journal of Music Therapy, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 85–109.
Clements-Cortes, A 2015a, ‘Clinical effects of choral singing for older adults’, Music & Medicine, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 7–12.
Clements-Cortes, A 2015b, ‘Singing for health, connection and care’, Music & Medicine, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 13–23.
Clift, S, Gilbert, R & Vella-Burrows, T 2016, A choir in every care home: Thematic literature review, viewed 17 May 2017, https://achoirineverycarehome.wordpress.com/resources/evidence-that-singing-works/
Clift, S & Hancox, G 2001, ‘The perceived benefits of singing: Findings from preliminary surveys of a university choral society’, Perspectives in Public Health, vol. 121, no. 4, pp. 248–256.
Clift, S & Hancox, G 2010, ‘The significance of choral singing for sustaining psychological wellbeing: Findings from a survey of choristers in England, Australia and Germany’, Music Performance Research, vol. 3, pp. 79–96.
Clift, S, Hancox, G, Morrison, I, Hess, B, Kreutz, G & Steward, D 2009, ‘What do singers say about the effects of choral singing on physical health? Findings from a survey of choristers in Australia, England and Germany’, in J Louhivuori, T Eerola, S Saarikallio, T Himberg & P-S Eerola (eds.) Proceedings of the 7th Triennial Conference of European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM 2009), Jyväskylä, Finland.
Cohen, GD, Perlstein, S, Chapline, J, Kelly, J, Firth KM & Simmens S 2006, ‘The impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on the physical health, mental health, and social functioning of older adults’, The Gerontologist, vol. 46, no. 6, pp. 726–734.
Cohen, GD, Perlstein, S, Chapline, J, Kelly, J, Firth, KM & Simmens, S 2007, ‘The impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on the physical health, mental health, and social functioning of older adults – two-year results’, Journal of Aging, Humanities and the Arts, vol. 1, pp. 5–22.
Cooke, M, Moyle, W, Shum, D, Harrison, S & Murfield, J 2010a, ‘A randomized controlled trial exploring the effect of music on agitated behaviours and anxiety in older people with dementia’, Ageing & Mental Health, vol. 14, no. 8, pp. 905–916.
Cooke, M, Moyle, W, Shum, D, Harrison, S & Murfield, J 2010b, ‘A randomized controlled trial exploring the effect of music on quality of life and depression in older people with dementia’, Journal of Health Psychology, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 765–776.
Coulton, S, Clift, S, Skingley, A & Rodriguez, J 2015, ‘Effectiveness and cost effectiveness of community singing on mental health-related quality of life of older people: randomised controlled trial’, The British Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 207, no. 3, pp. 250–255.
Dassa, A & Amir, D 2014, ‘The role of singing familiar songs in encouraging conversation among people with middle to late stage Alzheimer’s Disease’, Journal of Music Therapy, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 131–153.
Daykin, N, Julier, G, Tomlinson, A & Meads, C 2016a, Music, singing and wellbeing for healthy adults, What Works Wellbeing Centre, London.
Daykin, N, Julier, G, Tomlinson, A & Meads, C 2016b, Music, singing and wellbeing for adults with diagnosed conditions, What Works Wellbeing Centre, London.
Di Benedetto, P, Cavazzon, M, Mondolo, F, Rugiu, G, Peratoner, A & Biasutti E 2009, ‘Voice and choral singing treatment: A new approach for speech and voice disorders in Parkinson’s disease’, European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, vol. 45, no. 1, pp. 13–19.
Evans, C, Canavan, M, Foy, C, Langford, R & Proctor, R 2012, ‘Can group singing provide effective speech therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease?’ Arts & Health: An international journal for research, policy and practice, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 83–94.
Fancourt, D, Williamon, A, Carvalho, LA, Steptoe, A, Dow, R & Lewis I 2016, ‘Singing modulates mood, stress, cortisol, cytokine and neuropeptide activity in cancer patients and carers’, E Cancer Medical Science, vol. 10, no. 631, pp. 1–13
Fogg-Rogers, L, Buetowz, S, Talmage, A, McCann, CM, Leao, SH, Tippett, L, Leung, J, McPherson, KM & Purdy, SC 2016, ‘Choral singing therapy following stroke or Parkinson’s disease: An exploration of participants’ experiences’, Disability and Rehabilitation: An International Multi-Disciplinary Journal, vol. 38, no. 10, pp. 952–962.
Gick, M 2011, ‘Singing, health and wellbeing: A health psychologist’s review’, Psychomusicology: Music, Mind & Brain, vol. 21, no. 1–2, pp. 1–32.
Gick, M & Nicol, JJ 2016, ‘Singing for respiratory health: Theory, evidence and challenge’s, Health Promotion International, vol. 31, pp. 725–734.
Grindley, H, Astbury, J, Sharples, J & Aguirre, C 2011, Benefits of group singing for community mental health and wellbeing. Survey and literature review, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Carlton.
Joseph, D & Southcott, J 2014a, ‘Singing and companionship in the Hawthorn University of the Third-Age Choir, Australia’, International Journal of Lifelong Learning, pp. 1–16, https://doi.org/10.1080/02601370.2014.991951
Joseph, D & Southcott, J 2014b, ‘Personal, musical and social benefits of singing in a community ensemble: Three case studies in Melbourne (Australia)’, The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa, Special edition, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 125–137.
Lesta, B & Petocz, P 2006, ‘Familiar group singing: addressing mood and social behaviour of residents with dementia displaying sundowning’, Australian Journal of Music Therapy, vol. 17, pp. 2–17.
Lewis, A, Cave, P, Stern, M, Welch, L, Taylor, K, Russell, J, Doyle, A-M, Russell, A-M, McKee, H, Clift, S, Bott, J & Hopkinson, NS 2016, ‘Singing for lung health: A systematic review and consensus statement’, Primary Care Respiratory Medicine, vol. 26, https://doi.org/10.1038/npjpcrm.2016.80.
Li, S & Southcott, J 2012, ‘A place for singing: active music engagement by older Chinese Australians’, International Journal of Community Music, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 59–78.
Livesey, L, Morrison, I, Clift, S & Camic, P 2012, ‘Benefits of choral singing for social and mental wellbeing: Qualitative findings from a cross-national survey of choir members’, Journal of Public Mental Health, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 10–26.
Lord, VM, Cave, P, Hume, VJ, Flude, JE, Evans, A, Kelly, JL, Polkey, MI & Hopkinson, NS 2010, ‘Singing teaching as a therapy for chronic respiratory disease – a randomised controlled trial and qualitative evaluation’, BMC Pulmonary Medicine, vol. 10, no. 41, pp. 1–7, https://doi.org/ 10.1186/1471-2466-10-41
Lord, VM, Hume, VJ, Kelly, JL, Cave, P, Silver, J, Waldman, M, White, C, Smith, C, Tanner, R, Sanchez, M, Man, WD-C, Polkey, MI & Hopkinson, NS 2012, ‘Singing classes for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A randomised control trial’, BMC Pulmonary Medicine, vol. 12, no. 69, pp. 1–7, https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2466-12-69
McNaughton, A, Aldington, S, Williams, G and Levack, WMM 2016, ‘Sing Your Lungs Out: A qualitative study of a community singing group for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)’, BMJ Open, vol. 6, no. 9, e012521, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2016012521
McNaughton, A, Weatherall, M, Williams, M, McNaughton, H, Aldington, S, Williams, G & Beasley, R 2017, ‘Sing Your Lungs Out: A community singing group for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A 1-year pilot study’, BMJ Open, vol. 7, no. 1, e014151, https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2016014151
Morrison, I, Clift, S, Page, S, Salisbury, I, Shipton, M, Skingley, A & Burrows, TV 2013, ‘A UK feasibility study on the value of singing for people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)’, in M White, M Meagher & S Atkinson (eds.), UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Journal in the Arts, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 1–19.
Myskja, A & Nord, P 2008 ‘“The day the music died”: A pilot study on music and depression in a nursing home’, Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 30–40.
Osman, S, Tischler, V & Schneider, J 2014 ‘‘Singing for the Brain’: A qualitative study exploring the health and well-being benefits of singing for people with dementia and their carers’, Dementia, vol. 15, no. 6, pp. 1–14, https://doi.org/10.1177/1471301214556291
Reagon, C, Gale, N, Enright, S, Mann, M & van Deursen R 2016, ‘A mixed-methods systematic review to investigate the effect of group singing on health related quality of life’, Complementary Therapies in Medicine, vol. 27, pp. 1–11, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2016.03.017
Särkämö T, Laitinen S, Numminen A, Kurki M, Johnson JK, Rantanen P 2015, Clinical and Demographic Factors Associated with the Cognitive and Emotional Efficacy of Regular Musical Activities in Dementia. J Alzheimers Disease. 49, 3, 767–781, https://doi.org/10.3233/JAD-150453
Skingley, A & Bungay, H 2010, ‘The Silver Song Club Project: Singing to promote the health of older people’, British Journal of Community Nursing, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 135–140.
Skingley, A, Martin, A & Clift, S 2016, ‘The contribution of community singing groups to the well-being of older people: Participant perspectives from the UK’, Journal of Applied Gerontology, vol. 35, no. 12, pp. 1302–1324, https://doi.org/10.1177/0733464815577141
Southcott, J 2009, ‘And as I go, I love to sing: The Happy Wanderers, music and positive aging’, International Journal of Community Music, vol. 2, no. 2–3, pp. 143–156.
Svansdottir, H & Snaedal, J 2006, ‘Music therapy in moderate and severe dementia of Alzheimer’s type: A case-control study’, International Psychogeriatrics, vol. 18, pp. 1–9.
Teater, B & Baldwin, M 2014, ‘Singing for successful ageing: The perceived benefits of participating in the Golden Oldies community-arts programme’, British Journal of Social Work, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 81–99, https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcs095
Ward, A & Parkes, J 2015, ‘An evaluation of a Singing for the Brain pilot with people with a learning disability and memory problems or a dementia’, Dementia, vol. 16, no. 3, 1–15, https://doi.org/10.1177/1471301215592539
Werner, J, Wosch, T & Gold, C 2015, ‘Effectiveness of group music therapy versus recreational group singing for depressive symptoms of elderly nursing home residents: pragmatic trial’, Aging & Mental Health, pp. 1–10, https://doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2015.1093599
World Health Organization 1946/2006, Constitution of the World Health Organization, viewed 17 May 2017, http://www.who.int/governance/eb/who_constitution_en.pdf
Editors and Affiliations
© 2018 The Author(s)
About this chapter
Cite this chapter
Clift, S., Gilbert, R., Vella-Burrows, T. (2018). Health and Well-Being Benefits of Singing for Older People. In: Sunderland, N., Lewandowski, N., Bendrups, D., Bartleet, BL. (eds) Music, Health and Wellbeing. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-349-95284-7_6
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London
Print ISBN: 978-1-349-95283-0
Online ISBN: 978-1-349-95284-7
eBook Packages: Social SciencesSocial Sciences (R0)