Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University will work with Essex County Council to see if performance art can help ease loneliness and improve social relationships in care homes, thanks to a £125,000 grant from the Arts Council.
The two-year project will involve three in-depth case studies in care homes as well as a survey of all care homes and day care centres in Essex. Residents of the selected homes will take part in activities such as music, dance and reminiscence arts – a form of memory therapy.
The project will examine how these activities provide opportunities for older people to interact with each other and engage with the wider community. It will also examine how the activities influence the caring relationships between older people and those who work in the care homes.
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, lacking social connections can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. The campaign also estimates that about 10% of the general population aged over 65 is lonely most or all of the time.
Despite being in the presence of other residents within care homes, loneliness is still a problem. According to Age UK, care home residents may not appear to be physically isolated, but their relationship with the people they live with may not be enough to ward off loneliness, particularly when the death of friends and loved ones takes away the companionship they need.
The study is being carried out by joint investigators Professor Carol Munn-Giddings and Dr Hilary Bungay of Anglia Ruskin University. Professor Munn-Giddings said: “Studies have shown that participation in the arts can improve social interaction, and as such could strengthen relationships among older people living in care homes, some of whom may be suffering from loneliness or mental health issues.”
Dr Bungay added: “Faced with an ageing population, this is an important project that could improve the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable members of society. We are delighted that the Arts Council agrees and has provided the funding for this study.”
The research will be carried out in partnership with Essex County Council’s Art Development Unit.
Councillor John Spence, Essex County Council Cabinet member with responsibility for heritage, culture and the arts, said: “What we all want is that older people living in homes have the best quality lives. Arts activity can be both a stimulus and a comfort; this piece of work will enable us to see how best we to build such an offering for our residents. My sincerest thanks to the Arts Council for supporting us in this endeavour.”
Councillor Dick Madden, Essex County Council Cabinet member for adults and children, said: “At Essex we strive to be at the forefront of innovation in service development. This can be through driving change digitally, but we shouldn’t overlook the chance to innovate in more traditional ways.
“Finding new ways, through collaborative working, research and art to make living in care more comfortable and enjoyable is a great thing and I’m excited to be working with Anglia Ruskin to bring this to the residents of our county.”