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IBSA Foundation_Culture and Health_Paolo Paolantonio
Catterina Seia14 Feb 20235 min read

Music comes to care homes for the elderly and the musicians feel better.

One year after the public call for case studies, launched as part of the Culture and Health project, what is the development of the three award-winning research paths?

In November 2021, as part of the IBSA Foundation's 'Cultura e Salute' (Culture and Health) strategic project for scientific research, the first edition of the 'Cultura e Salute - Alleanza per un futuro sostenibile' Forum "Culture and Health – An Alliance for a Sustainable Future" was held at LAC Lugano in partnership with the City of Lugano Arts Department. Two days of meetings on the humanisation of care and care spaces, with a growing body of scientific evidence, presented by the WHO.

Three local subjects received awards, after a public call for case studies launched as part of the Cultura e Salute project (Culture and Health), which invited experts and practitioners to present innovative experiences on the arts as a resource for social health challenges.

One year later, what direction have their paths taken? We meet Paolo Paolantonio author of the study 'Art for ages. Musica nella comunità' (Art for ages. Music in the community). A musician and researcher at the Research and Development Department of the Conservatorio della Svizzera italiana, he recently completed his doctoral studies at the Royal College of Music in London with a work that focussed on two groups, the elderly and university music students, inspired by scientific literature about them.

Over the past decades an increasing number of publications have presented the effects of a wide range of musical activities on the elderly. As well as specific music therapy projects, whose effectiveness is becoming increasingly clear, we know that participation in music can have a positive impact on health and physical, psychological and social well-being. Singing, playing musical instruments or listening to concerts, reduce depression, isolation, medication use and doctor's visits, as well as improving cognitive and motor skills, self-esteem, interpersonal relationships and social participation”.

If the elderly are seen as recipients, i.e. recipients of programmes aimed at promoting participation in the arts, an increasing number of studies also point to important benefits for providers, i.e. those involved in running the programmes. The studies report the effects on the musicians involved in community programmes as well as on the elderly and their care givers: less anxiety and fear, increased motivation and better interpersonal skills are also tangible for the musicians.

The role of music in the life of care homes

Paolantonio carried out his research on the Art for Ages programme, which involved four care homes for the elderly and nine students from the Conservatorio della Svizzera italiana with these premises in mind. Over the course of ten weeks, the residents had the chance to sing and play simple percussion instruments together with the students, who had specific training in the form of a seminar. Paolantonio's doctoral project involved four studies carried out with a qualitative approach. The first aimed to clarify the role that music plays in the daily lives of residents, the second and third explored the lived experience of residents and students and the perceived effects of taking part in the programme, and the fourth analysed aspects of the training offered to students.

The results showed that interaction between residents and students can produce important mutual benefits. As far as the residents are concerned, it emerged that music is an important resource for feeling less lonely, maintaining contact with one's personal identity and fulfilling artistic experiences. There was also a desire for more opportunities to listen to both recorded and live music, together with an interest in exploring unfamiliar composers and repertoires. Taking part in Art for Ages produced a wide range of positive and fulfilling feelings, due to the learning opportunities the programme offered, the interpersonal relationships created during the sessions, and the high-level musical talent of the young musicians involved. The latter, for their part, thought the programme relevant because of its humanitarian and innovative value. They had lessons not only from lecturers but also from the residents themselves, with significant effects on both their professional and personal spheres and improved motivation, energy and perception of their own state of health”.

Sharing emotions through music

In 2018 Paolantonio also created Musica e parole (Music and Words), a programme focused on listening to music and dialogue. Here too, the students receive special training and create events in residential homes for the elderly that can facilitate sharing emotions and reflections triggered by the pieces they perform.

The pandemic halted many projects, but others grew through online platforms. Musica e Parole was one of these. It involved ten facilities in Ticino and was the only international case among the best practice examples included in the 'Arts and Culture in every care home?' national report published in 2021 by the Baring Foundation (UK).

In terms of the development of his research, Paolantonio will be focussing on three areas in the coming months. The first involves developing musical activities in day centres for the elderly, as part of a programme supported by the Swiss Association for the Promotion of Social Innovation, which aims to involve the elderly in co-creation processes. The second is a randomised controlled study in partnership with the Red Cross and the Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale (the Canton Hospital Association) focusing on the effects that taking part in music can have on people with Parkinson's disease. Finally, there will be more Art for Ages and Music and Words programmes in Ticino.

In line with the concept of active ageing promoted by the WHO, which emphasises (among other things) the importance of helping the elderly be a part of the socio-economic and cultural welfare of the community, the common aim of these projects is to develop action to facilitate access to music in the older population and increase the quality of life in care homes for the elderly.

In light of the benefits reported by students, it appears vital to combine research with training in conservatories. This can help create virtuous circles to promote the role of musicians in society and increase their well-being, enriching their skills and expanding their professional opportunities.

Future directions

Read and listen to learn more:


Catterina Seia

Co-Founder and President of CCW-Cultural Welfare Center; Co-Founder and Vice President of the Fitzcarraldo Foundation; Vice President of the Fondazione Medicina a Misura di Donna

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