Many older adults face formidable challenges to social wellbeing. Foremost among these is the social isolation and loneliness that may arise from a combination of factors inclusive of retirement from work, increased physical distance from family, cessation of driving, and the death of loved ones. Another prominent challenge to social wellbeing concerns stigma, often involving self-stereotyping whereby an individual internalizes commonly held negative characterizations of aging or aging-associated diseases as part of their social identity Increasingly, Canadians are discovering singing as a meaningful social activity that appears to have the potential to address some of these core challenges older adults experience in terms of social wellbeing.
A recent report by Choral Canada (2017) estimates that there are currently over 500 self-identified older adult choirs in Canada. Although recent research has provided a more nuanced understanding of the social benefits of group singing, comparatively little is known about older adult choirs. Drawing on gerontological and musicological literatures, the assembled team of researchers in the current proposal will investigate the potential for choir singing to support social wellbeing in older adults living with age-associated diseases as well as those who are in good health. A second aim of this project will be to clarify the sociobiological underpinnings of these social benefits. Finally, the study will also assess the longitudinal effects of choir singing on social wellbeing.
There are six categories of older adults who will participate in this study. This includes older adults with Parkinson’s, Lung Disease, Dementia, Aphasia, Hearing Loss, and those who are in good health. Each category is composed of two to five groups (including choir groups and control groups) that will each be assessed across two sessions. Each session will involve two measurement phases: The “pre-session phase” will occur immediately before the 90-minute singing or talking session commences, and the “post-session” phase will occur immediately afterwards. The majority of groups in this partnership are already established, which limits the potential insights gained from a longitudinal approach. However, 4 of the choirs will be newly established and allow for longitudinal assessments. Hence, we will track these choirs for 6 sessions spanning one calendar year providing an excellent opportunity to track any cumulative benefits.
It is expected that group singing will lead to increased social connectedness and a positive reconstruction of social identity. These gains are expected to be moderated by group-level factors, inclusive of achievement motivation and ability-focus, as well as individual-level factors, inclusive of anxiety, depression, and self-assessed music ability. We also expect to observe sociobiological changes that occur over the course of a singing session. Data analysis will combine in-depth qualitative analyses with advanced statistical methods.
To support the exchange of information between the core research team and knowledge experts, three workshops are planned. An initial workshop will focus on planning issues. An interim workshop will focus on preliminary insights that may inform the analysis plan. A closing workshop will consolidate insights and launch KM efforts. These efforts will culminate in a best practices guide for each of the populations under study, and will be further distilled into “white papers” and other accessible forms of communication (e.g., pamphlets, articles in community newsletters/blogs) that will be widely distributed with the help of our current partners (Canadian Opera Company, Parkinson’s Canada) and other interested parties that we hope to bring on board over the course of the project (e.g., Choral Canada).
More generally, this partnership will fill these gaps in the literature, develop a more comprehensive understanding of best practices, and work towards knowledge mobilization, thereby broadening the scope of older adults who may benefit. Our approach is interdisciplinary, focusing on social wellbeing in the context of able-ness, incorporating psychosocial measures, sociobiological measures, and structured interviews.