Image shown: Lifting the Spirits

Image shown: Lifting the Spirits

Image shown: Lifting the Spirits

Image shown: Lifting the Spirits

Image shown: Lifting the Spirits

Image shown: Lifting the Spirits


Lifting the Spirits aimed to implement structured participatory music programmes for older people in residential and day care settings within the Tolka Area Partnership by

  • motivating participants to sing and play musical instruments
  • rekindling any pre-existing musical skills
  • increasing social interaction among participants
  • contributing to a positive feeling for participants
  • encouraging self expression
  • reducing agitation and/or disruptive behaviour for some participants

The music programmes for the participating care centres aimed:

  • To create an opportunity to improve interaction between staff and participants
  • To improve staff morale
  • To provide an opportunity to demonstrate good practice in implementing a flexible, participatory music programme
  • To enable music to become part of the environment


Each music session lasted for an hour, with time allocated afterwards for musicians to debrief with staff and participants. The sessions were carefully planned in advance, with a focus on the needs of the group, the interactive, participative nature of the programme and on-going feedback. A key element of planning and delivery was flexibility, with the suggestions and responses of participants playing a key role in determining the next session and on-going feedback from participants and staff determining the overall programme.

Each session revolved around a theme, such as ‘Songs from the Musicals’, ‘Songs we learned at School’, ‘The life & songs of Percy French’. One or more sessions focused on the creation of a story by participants, with percussion instruments used to create musical sounds and rhythms. For example, one group created a story based on an encounter between Dicey O’Reilly and Jimmy O’Dea in the Theatre Royal. Participants used percussion instruments to create street sounds and costumes, props and songs from the period were used to illustrate the story.

The sessions commenced with gentle stretching exercises, an interactive exercise with a soft ball and a song with actions. Percussion was introduced in the third week. The instruments were demonstrated according to composition and sound and participants divided into groups to follow three different rhythms. This exercise progressed to enable the group to accompany songs and tunes. Each session began with a signature tune (waltz) and closed with a farewell song (Irene Goodnight).

Every week the musicians played a set of traditional Irish tunes, participants beating time with percussion instruments with some of them dancing to the music. Participants were encouraged to suggest and sing songs of their own each session and these were included in planning future sessions. The musicians interacted with the participants as a group and individually e.g. demonstrating percussion instruments, interactive exercises, follow up after the session.

Evaluation Methodology

The following methods were used to document and evaluate the programme:

  • Care staff in the centres completed an observation sheet each week based on participant responses to the session.
  • Participants completed programme evaluation questionnaires.
  • The musicians interviewed care staff and participants on completion of the programmes. The musicians also had regular informal feedback discussions with participants and care staff throughout the programme.
  • Programme evaluation meetings were held mid-way and at the end of the programme with the centre Manager, the musicians and the Tolka Area Partnership representative. The musicians compiled a review of each session on a weekly basis, detailing key points relating to content and delivery, participant responses, staff involvement.
  • A volunteer photographer videod one of the music sessions in Cuan Ros Residential Centre and photographed a session in Odins Wood Day Care Centre.

Evaluation Outcomes

Three Lifting the Spirits music programmes, based on the original pilot programme, were implemented in residential and day care centres in North Dublin. Feedback from participants, staff and managers indicate that the programmes successfully achieved the aims and objectives.

Impact on participants

Participants were motivated to express themselves through singing, reminiscing and playing percussion instruments. Social interaction among participants increased and a highly positive musical experience was created that contributed to the well-being of participants and helped to calm those who normally exhibit agitation.

The programme was successful in enabling people to reminisce and facilitated the expression of emotions associated with memories. It provided stimulation in terms of new learning, for example, different percussion beats and offering an insight to the history and background to the songs.

Evidence of these outcomes for participants can be elicited through some of their comments:

‘Lifted my heart up; the memories it brought back’

‘It livens you up, gives you a lift’

‘I’m always in good form going home afterwards’

‘Music brings you along’

‘I enjoyed it very much and will miss it now it’s over’

Comments by Managers and Care Staff on the impact of the programmes on participants include:

‘It was lovely watching people respond to the music – moving their feet and hands. To see a resident with dementia beating time with a percussion instrument was wonderful’

‘It definitely improved the quality of life for all, including those who could not normally respond to activities because of dementia; it was absolutely superb.’

‘I did not expect the response we got from the Music Programme; it was much more than I expected.’

‘I saw people laughing who never laugh.’

Impact on staff and care centres

The programme created an opportunity to improve interaction between staff and participants:

‘The programme had a very positive impact on the unit. Just having the music in the unit was uplifting, very positive; very good for staff.’ (Unit Manager)

‘The staff enjoyed the music programme. The staff are all for the clients; if the clients enjoy it, the staff enjoy it.’ (Centre Manager)

‘Everyone enjoyed the music. People felt there was a buzz with the music; they would be talking about it’. (Unit Manager)

The programme provided staff with an example of good practice in implementing a flexible, participatory music programme. It contributed to new learning for staff and provided exercises for use in other activities.

‘The theme each week gave us a focus each morning … it fed into the activities of the day‘.

All of the Managers interviewed on completion of the programme wished to continue the programme and were encouraged to investigate funding opportunities for further programmes.


Tolka Area Partnership
HSE Health Promotion Unit
Cuan Ros Residential Care Home
Odins Wood Day Care Centre
Nethercross Day Care Centre

Project dates

November 2011 to March 2012

Lead organisation

Tolka Area Partnership

Funded By

National Lottery


Joan Harman, Marion McEvoy



Healthcare context(s)

Health Promotion, Older People, Primary Care/ Community Health

Nature of project

Collaborative/ participatory


Dublin City, Fingal


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