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Creative Ageing

A Practical Exploration of the Arts in the Healthcare of Older People

Project Leaders: Dr. Sue Morison and Dr. Jenny Elliott

In 2009, the Centre for Excellence in Inter-professional Education (CEIPE) secured funding from the Changing Ageing Partnership (CAP) at the School of Law’s Institute of Governance. This funding supported a research study of a specifically designed programme of arts participation that was provided for older people who had been diagnosed with dementia and who were living within a supported residential setting.

The research study explored the lived experience of two groups of older people and their healthcare carers as they participated in arts activities.  Participating service users and staff came from the Sydenham Court and Mullan Mews Supported Housing Units within the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. A team of artists were employed to deliver a programme of activities over a six-week period that included visual art, drama, dance and music.

The study built upon a model developed by CEIPE in collaboration with artists from Arts Care’s artist-in-residence scheme, in particular choreographer, Dr Jenny Elliott, and academics in the School of Languages, Literatures and Performing Arts. It was conducted within the context of the increased interest in, and desire to understand, how wider participation in the arts can make a positive contribution to existing programmes of healthcare for older people.

The study investigated and articulated the ways in which participation in the arts could offer older individuals the opportunity to take active responsibility for their own well-being as well as the development of a meaningful quality of life within a healthcare facility. It is anticipated that the programme’s findings will be used to improve healthcare education and that this will ultimately lead to the consideration of more holistic, creative-based care practices.


Within the context of the developing partnership between Arts and Healthcare, the research aimed:

  • to deepen understanding of the relationship between participation in an arts programme for service users with dementia and the impact of the programme on the participants’ well-being
  • to identify methods of arts facilitation within dementia services which may enhance the communication and interaction levels amongst service users and healthcare staff 

Summary of the Main Issues and Findings

One of the most challenging elements of the study related to a series of ethical and design issues that had to be addressed prior to the study. In consultation with the Service Manager of Mental Health and Immediate Care, the Unit Managers and Service Users, this resulted in the development and implementation of a series of protocols specifically designed to address the following issues:

  1. Consent to participate
  2. Ensuring confidentiality of recorded data
  3. Participant safety

The study implemented critical aspects of ethical practice with regard to performance and documentary-based research of populations with brain injury.  Participants’ experiences of contemporary dance were articulated through a documentary film and performance text.  It is anticipated that specifically designed protocols will provide valuable tools of reference to assist with future arts in health studies with vulnerable populations.

One of the primary findings of the study focuses on the opportunity provided through arts participation for older people to access creative-based lifelong learning opportunities. The study demonstrated that by availing of the arts activities, both staff and service users gained new skills that made a positive contribution to their quality of life and relationships within supported residential environments

Images from Sydenham Court Mullen Mews

Engaging with elderly at Sydenham Court Mullen Mews Engaging with Elderly at Sydenham Court Mullen Mews



Elliot, J. Grant, D. & Morison, S. (2010) Creative Ageing: a Practical Exploration of the Arts in the Healthcare of Older People. A report for the Changing Ageing Partnership. Belfast, Institute of Governance, QUB. | Download Report (PDF, 1.74MB)

Contact Information

Centre for Excellence in Interprofessional Education
Queen's University Belfast
School of Dentistry
Grosvenor Road
Belfast BT12 6BP

Tel: 028 9063 5313

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