What image comes to mind as you think of someone “ageing actively”? A grey-haired disco diva? An octogenarian going for a run? A table shared by elderly friends laughing and reminiscing? As the world population ages, the idea of what it means to age successfully is a question being asked by philosophers, policymakers and families alike. What life do we want for our elders and ourselves as we get older? Residential Aged Care facilities in Australia strive to provide the appropriate environment for older adults to stay engaged, connected and active.
Supporting active ageing is about “optimising opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance the quality of life for people as they age” (World Health Organisation, 2002) In this context, to be active is about “continuing to participate in social, economic, cultural, spiritual and civic affairs”. It is about being “active” rather than “passive” – living by one’s own rules, rather than those normalised by others. This approach requires interactions and activities that ensure the dignity, protection and care of people as they age.
There is a reason so many Aged Care Residences today offer fitness, arts and cultural activities for their residents. Research suggests that such activities assist with active ageing and improve quality of life. “Activity” in this context is about meaningful pursuits that contribute to individual well-being. Increased engagement in social and leisure activities can improve physical, cognitive and emotional health, and reduce isolation, invisibility and loneliness. (Foster, L and Walker L, 2021)
Music is a key cultural activity that can provide meaning and engagement for older adults in aged care. It has been shown to enhance well-being, especially in relation to satisfaction with life, and the presence of positive emotions. In Residential Aged Care, the goal is to create and support music activities that are engaging, meaningful and promote emotional regulation and a sense of community. (Krause, A E and Davidson, J W, 2021)
Music is an important part of many people’s identity. Realising older adults are individuals with their own interests and tastes is an important step in supporting them to have meaningful musical experiences they want to actively participate in. In a recent Australian study of older adults living in residential aged-care, the power of music to improve psychosocial well-being was reinforced. Participants said that music listening had been an important and regular part of their lives prior to moving into aged care. They talked about benefits such as entertainment, enjoyment, relaxation, mood regulation and aiding worship. (Krause, A E and Davidson, J W, 2021).
Music that is meaningful to the elderly needs to be something that each person can relate to if there is to be active engagement. Music from their youth that encourages reminiscing and connection is going to have the desired impact. When music is selected based on staff preferences, it can often lead to passive participation, or worse still, agitation on the part of the residents. This means that the music needs to be carefully curated to ensure these goals are met, especially when residents are unable to select their own listening preferences.
As attitudes change in our society of what it means to age, so many opportunities open up for older adults to live more fulfilling, meaningful and connected lives, whatever that looks like for them.