Age UK has launched a high profile campaign, challenging us to think aboutA how to love later life. Music-making offers a creative and cost-effective response to this challenge.
This view is articulated in our new book, Active Ageing with MusicA, through the voices of later-life community music-makers and supported by a wealth of evidence making a compelling case for the power of music in the lives of older adults. There are currently 10 million people in the UK aged over 65 and that number is forecast to double by 2050.
This extraordinary demographic transition, where we have seen a remarkable increase in the over-nineties, centenarians and even super-centenarians, is a triumph of public health policy and practice, yet also poses one of the major social challenges of the 21st century. As the Director of Age UK has stated, there is a pressing need for creative thinking about how we can help people make the most of a longer later life.
So, what might be so special about music-making in later life? One explanation relates to its holistic nature. In addition to influencing positive mental and physical health, music-making provides a context that promotes independence, personal development and self-expression alongside fellowship and intergenerational solidarity. As one music-maker (aged 80) is quoted: “Music benefits everybody, because of its beauty … It is an uplifting experience. I can’t imagine a life without music … It fulfils a need.” Yet, there is still much to be done before access to the full potential of musical participation might be a reality for our older citizens.
For example, apart from some very valuable practice and research with older people afflicted with dementia and some other age-related conditions, there has been little research that explores fully how music-making may be exploited within a range of community and institutional settings that reach the most vulnerable and frail of our older people. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that musical activities could act as a pathway to sustained or enhanced wellbeing. But provision must be of a high quality, responding to the diverse needs amongst older cohorts. To this end, there is a need for sustainable professional development and partnership working for musicians and other organisations with a stake in activities for older people. Age UK has laid down the challenge. As we prepare for old age and support our families, friends, and wider community members who have reached the Third and Fourth Ages, we need to find ways to ‘love later life’. Music-making does exactly this, with its potential to reach diverse groups amongst older people, supporting active ageing and touching individual lives in powerful ways.