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What Works Centre for Wellbeing

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing is an independent research centre that develops and shares robust, accessible and useful evidence so that government, businesses and communities and people can improve wellbeing across the UK.

They have partners across universities, government and national charities. Includes over 15 universities, the UK government and devolved administrations and charities like The Campaign to End Loneliness and The National Lottery.

Main findings

A recent 2016 review of 20 years’ worth of research encompassing data from 1,364 people found a strong positive impact on music for wellbeing on elderly people. In particular with communal group singing.

Findings included:

  • There is high quality evidence that brief music therapy is an effective intervention to support wellbeing of palliative care patients in hospital settings.

  • That there is moderate quality evidence that targeted, culturally relevant music interventions, including playing a musical instrument and singing, can decrease depression in older people with chronic conditions in residential and community settings.

  • Regular group singing can enhance moral and mental health-related quality of life and reduce loneliness, anxiety and depression in older people compared to usual activities.

  • Communal group singing can maintain a sense of wellbeing and is perceived as both acceptable and beneficial for older participants.

  • Membership of a choir or musical ensemble can provide a vehicle for identity construction and revision in later life, including people with little or no previous experience of music.

  • Older adults are motivated to participate in musical activities to broaden their social networks and to learn.

Music and stroke recovery

  • A 2011 study found that listening to music had a small improvement in reducing anxiety, and significant improvements in depression, for a 4-week music therapy group for stroke patients compared with usual activity.

  • A similar 2013 study of people who had suffered a stroke found that joining a community choir was beneficial. A survey carried out during the study suggests a reduction of distress and interviews with the patients found self-reported increases in confidence, peer support, enhanced mood, increased motivation, and positive changes to communication.

Lung and breathing conditions

  • A 2012 study of patients with respiratory problems found that attending twice weekly classes was associated with better clinical physical health, improvements in wellbeing and were reported as enjoyable by patients in the study.

Palliative care

  • A study in 2015 of cancer patients receiving palliative care in Germany found that two 30 minute music therapy sessions every two days showed that brief music is an effective way to support wellbeing and relaxation.

Ways to experience music

In a care home based case study residents experienced taking part in communal and group music in different ways. This included:

  • A group of women residents who sat together all joined in singing, rarely using the song book and commenting that “I’ve not heard that song in a while”.
  • A 105-year-old woman did not sing but looked animated and engaged throughout group activities by moving her hands.
  • Several residents tapped their chairs to the sound of the music.
  • Carers supported residents by singing with them when able to and also turning pages of singing sheets if needed.