Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

Being Well, Being Musical: Music Composition as a Resource and Occupation for Older People

Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

Being Well, Being Musical: Music Composition as a Resource and Occupation for Older People

Article excerpt


It is widely recognised that people are generally living longer and healthier lives. Life expectancy significantly increased during the last century (World Health Organization [WHO] 2011a) such that, compared to life expectancies in 1900, a gain of approximately 30 years has been estimated in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (Christiansen et al 2009). While increasing longevity may bring benefits from ongoing occupational engagement and more opportunities for life experiences, maintaining the health and wellbeing of the ageing population is also one of the biggest challenges facing contemporary healthcare providers and policy makers (Department of Health 2011). Many bodies are working to respond to these challenges, including national and local government, charities, arts organisations and educational institutions.

Coventry University is just one education provider whose research goals include a focus on wellbeing and social inclusion for older people (Coventry University 2010). For this project, the university researched a project led by Manchester Camerata, an orchestra that seeks to address just such issues of wellbeing and inclusion through participatory music making. The orchestra works closely with Manchester City Council, which itself helped Manchester to become the first city in the United Kingdom (UK) designated as 'age friendly' by the WHO in 2010. Age-friendly cities are part of WHO's aim to create age-friendly environments that 'encourage active ageing by optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age' (WHO 2011b). The WHO's aim to ameliorate occupational imbalance in older people and to engage them in creative occupation also aligns closely with the strategic planning of the UK occupational therapy profession profession (BAOT/COT 2008).

Literature review

Occupation in later life

Challenges that face the ageing population include poor motivation in self care (Mussi et al 2002), dissociative states that include depression and in some cases suicidal ideation (Rubin and Hewstone 1998, De Leo et al 2001), loneliness (Bruce et al 2007), emotional distress (Scott et al 2001) and impaired quality of life (Hassell et al 2006). Such challenges indicate the more negative outcomes arising from the enormous social transformation that an ageing population may experience upon entering a later stage of life.

Many theorists present concepts of occupation and activity to help understand health in older adulthood (Cohen 2009, Law and McColl 2010, Peppin and Deutscher 2011). Although there has been discussion within the occupational therapy literature concerning terminology (Golledge 1998a, 1998b, Pierce 2001), the term 'occupation' as used in this paper refers specifically to the occupation of 'musicking', defined as: 'to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practising, by providing material for performance' (Small 1998, p9). Wilcock describes occupations as 'purposeful and meaningful daily activities that fill a person's time' (2006, p696) and in this project participants engaged in all the activities listed by Small (1998), except performing.

Berger's description of life as a dynamic system of multidirectional change is argued within this paper as being influenced by engagement in occupations (Berger 2005, p18). The life span perspective may therefore be used as a means of understanding those occupations that are meaningful to individuals, even though--as in this project--they may initially appear unrepresentative of their life stage. Erikson et al (1986) put forward eight psychosocial themes of old age. These include 'identity versus identity confusion', which relates to the continued search for identity as well as the re-experiencing and re-evaluation of identity according to changed abilities and circumstances. …

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