How music could reduce healthcare costs of the UK's ageing population

03 July 2013

Spiralling costs to the NHS of providing healthcare to over 65s could be reduced if more community music groups were set up, new research suggests.

A year-long study from the Institute of Education, University of London, has found that older people who are part of music groups are more likely to be happier – and even healthier – than their peers who opt for alternative leisure pursuits.

The researchers surveyed 400 people aged between 50 and 93 who participated in community music sessions organised by The Sage Gateshead, Westminster Adult Education Service, and the Connect programme at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Activities ranged from singing and composing to playing the ukulele and dancing the Samba.

They questioned an additional 100 people who attended classes in arts and crafts, yoga or languages, or who were part of a book club or social group.

The study found that those who took part in music groups had higher levels of wellbeing, including a stronger sense of purpose in life and of feeling in control. They also had more positive social relationships than those taking part in other activities.

Ten million people in the UK are over 65 years old but this total is expected to rise to around 17 million by 2035. With the cost of mental and physical healthcare for older people increasing, the findings suggest that community music groups could lead to significant savings for the NHS. Depression alone currently affects 1 in 5 older people living in the community and 2 in 5 living in care homes, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

Many participants in the study also felt that participating in music sessions kept them physically active and gave them more energy. One interviewee said: "It (would) save the health service and the social services an enormous amount if they put these in place everywhere…it must be good for our health." Previous research has indicated the physical health benefits of music-making and has even revealed lower mortality rates amongst those who make music or sing in a choir.

The IOE researchers found that individuals continue to enjoy music-making as they move into the later stages of life. Over-75s in the study felt the same sense of control over their lives as those aged 50 and over, and also benefited from forming positive social relationships. This is significant as the 'oldest old' comprise the fastest-growing group and the cost of healthcare for the most elderly is likely to be much greater than for younger retired people.

Professor Susan Hallam, who led the research, notes that there are many reasons why community music sessions can have such a positive effect on older people's wellbeing. "Music can have a really positive impact on mood, which can help reduce depression," she said. "The physical activity involved in singing and playing instruments, and the focus and concentration required, can also create a real sense of control and purpose - especially when performances are planned. Participants feel like they are giving something back to the community, and are proud of what they have achieved together."

Professor Hallam believes that establishing more community music initiatives could have significant mental and physical health benefits for older people. "With pensioners in the UK now outnumbering children under the age of 16, there is a growing need for initiatives that will support older people's wellbeing and reduce the growing demands on the NHS of providing health care to the ageing population. Findings from this research show that providing opportunities for making music in a social context will help older people to remain active and enable them to age with dignity and independence."

The IOE study was funded by the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme, a seven-year research initiative that is supported by five research councils and aims to improve older people's quality of life.

'Does active engagement in community music support the wellbeing of older people?', by Susan Hallam, Andrea Creech, Helena Gaunt, Maria Varvarigou and Hilary McQueen, was published by Routledge in Arts & Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice on Tuesday 2nd July 2013.

Further information from:

Claire Battye
Institute of Education
University of London
07933 469002
020 7612 6516

David Budge
Institute of Education
University of London
020 7911 5349
07881 415362

Meghan Rainsberry
Institute of Education
University of London
07531 864481

Notes for editors:

1. The New Dynamics of Ageing Programme is a unique collaboration between five UK research councils – the Economic and Social Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It is the largest and most ambitious research programme on ageing ever mounted in the UK.

2. The Silver Programme at The Sage Gateshead, involves more than 500 people in music activities including singing of all kinds, steel pans, African drumming, guitars, recorder, folk ensemble, ukuleles, brass, music theory and Samba. The Guildhall Connect Project runs community music activities in East London with people from a wide range of backgrounds, ages and experiences. It embraces classical and popular music, western and non-western genres, and participants are encouraged to create and perform music together. The Music Department of the Westminster Adult Education Services offers a wide range of community music activities for older people, including not only singing and instrumental work but sound engineering, music theory and composing.

3. About 80 per cent of the 500 participants involved in this study were women and the majority were white and from professional backgrounds. Almost three-quarters of the music-makers were aged under 75. A similar proportion had some prior musical experience but almost 30 per cent classed themselves as beginners.

4. The Institute of Education is a college of the University of London that specialises in education and related areas of social science and professional practice. In the most recent Research Assessment Exercise two-thirds of the Institute's research activity was judged to be internationally significant and over a third was judged to be "world leading". The Institute was recognised by Ofsted in 2010 for its "high quality" initial teacher training programmes that inspire its students "to want to be outstanding teachers". The IOE is a member of the 1994 Group, which brings together 12 internationally renowned, research-intensive universities. More at

5. Research Councils UK (RCUK) is the strategic partnership of the UK's seven Research Councils. It invests annually around £3 billion in research and its focus is on excellence with impact. It nurtures the highest quality research, as judged by international peer review, providing the UK with a competitive advantage. Global research requires that the country sustains a diversity of funding approaches, fostering international collaborations, providing access to the best facilities and infrastructure, and locating skilled researchers in stimulating environments. UK research achieves impact – the demonstrable contribution to society and the economy made by knowledge and skilled people. To deliver impact, researchers and businesses need to engage and collaborate with the public, business, government and charitable organisations.