Bring on the health economists: time for a rigorous evaluation of senior participative arts


Purpose – As our elderly population increases, scheduled to rise by 61 per cent in the next 20 years, a national
panic has set in about what to do. Antidepressant use is on the rise, and the figures for loneliness and depression
skyrocketing. So far, so normal and so very disheartening. The purpose of this paper is to make a radical plea
to change our thinking about how the lives of our senior citizens are lived: bring on the health economists, and
let us put some serious funding into studying the effects of participative arts on the lives of older people.

Design/methodology/approach – This year the author was awarded aWinston Churchill Fellowship to study
participative arts for older people in the USA. The author interviewed Professor Julene Johnson of University of
California San Francisco, about “Community of Voices” an ambitious, well-funded five year programme which is
launching 12 one-year choirs with low income, non-singers, after which findings will be rigorously tested.

Findings – In the USA, proper evaluation of participative arts is being taken seriously as a means of whittling
down massive Medicare costs. There is evaluation going on in the UK, but much of it is flawed, usually down
to cost. Evaluations generally consist of questionnaires filled in by participants. Findings centre around the
psychological arena, rather than physical aspects (balance, hospital visits).

Originality/value – It is imperative that one starts thinking about participative arts for seniors in a scientific
and serious way. The alternative – roomfuls of elders on antidepressants (the UK’s antidepressant use was
up 23 per cent between 2010 and 2011) does not bear thinking about.

Clair Chapwell
Working With Older People
VOL. 18 NO. 1 2014, pp. 4-9
ISSN 1366-3666
WWOP Article.pdf95.89 KB
Supported using public funding by the Arts Council England