Widening Participation in Creative Activities for Older Adults

A Report on a Symposium Held in Australia


  • Helen J. English University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Michelle Kelly University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Genevieve A. Dingle University of Queensland, Australia
  • Frini Karayanidis University of Newcastle, Australia
  • Jane W. Davidson University of Melbourne, Australia




creative ageing; ageing research; co-creation; sustainability


Globally our society is shifting to an older demographic and our lifespan increasing. It is therefore critical that we find and promote solutions to ageing well. There is emerging evidence that engagement in creative activities benefits psychosocial wellbeing and supports cognitive health. However, there are aspects of creative ageing research and implementation that need further development and solution-based thinking. These can be summarized as, (1) providing strong evidence for the benefits of engaging in creative activities; (2) overcoming barriers for participants and researchers; and (3) making engagement in creative activities sustainable. To address these areas, we held a symposium in 2022 and invited stakeholders, including older-adult participants, researchers, practitioners, and aged-care professionals. Symposium participants were allocated into three groups, each with representation from different stakeholders. The groups discussed one of the above areas and then shared ideas with the symposium group. An expert panel led further discussions and sought suggestions for solutions. Key suggestions included involving older adults in research design and planning from the beginning of the process; solutions for accessibility and sense of safety including having “try out” sessions and buddying participants; and creating partnerships with community organizations to promote sustainability. This report summarizes our discussions and advocates for more forums to move the debate forward.

Author Biographies

Helen J. English, University of Newcastle, Australia

Helen English is Associate Professor of Music at the University of Newcastle, Australia. She is an ARC Early Career Research Fellow focused on creative ageing. She has a passionate interest in equity of access to music, which has driven music outreach and collaborations with the Centre of Excellence for Equity in Higher Education (CEEHE) at the University of Newcastle. Her interest in music’s affordances for quality of life across the lifespan have led her to work with both young people and older adults. She currently leads research investigating the effects of engagement with creative activities for older adults, funded by Dementia Australia, and the ARC project, focused on the transformative effects of engagement with music for older adults. She leads a creative ageing research team at the University of Newcastle, with Professor Frini Karayanidis and A/Professor Michelle Kelly, which is supported by the Hunter Medical Research Institute. https://www.newcastle.edu.au/profile/helen-english

Michelle Kelly, University of Newcastle, Australia

Dr Michelle Kelly is a Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor in the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Her research focus is on social functioning and post diagnostic care for people with a diagnosis of dementia and their care partners. She also conducts work on mental health in ageing, and particularly within residential aged care settings. Michelle collaborates with researchers at the National Ageing Research Institute in Melbourne, University of New South Wales and University College London in this work. She also works closely with clinicians in public health settings, aged care service providers and not for profit organisations. Michelle maintains her clinical practice within a residential aged care setting.

Genevieve A. Dingle, University of Queensland, Australia

Genevieve Dingle is a Professor and Director of Clinical Psychology programs at the University of Queensland. Her research spans the disciplines of clinical psychology, music psychology, and public health. Genevieve studies how membership of music groups such as choirs can meet participants’ psychological needs and result in benefits for cognitive health, mental health and social connectedness. She currently leads an evaluation of a community choir for people with dementia and their carers, a university choir for international students, and two evaluations of social prescribing programs in Southeast Queensland. Genevieve is an associate editor of the Psychology of Music journal and she serves on the executive committees of the Arts Health Network (QLD), the Australian Music and Psychology Society (AMPS), and the Australian Social Prescribing Institute for Research and Education (ASPIRE). Professor Genevieve Dingle - UQ Researchers

Frini Karayanidis, University of Newcastle, Australia

Frini Karayanidis is Professor of Psychology at the University of Newcastle (UON), Australia and Senior Research Affiliate with the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI). As Director of UON’s Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Frini Karayanidis’ cognitive neuroscience research aims to characterise how we effectively and flexibly adapt to changing internal and external demands across the lifespan to optimise life outcomes. She has strong cross-disciplinary collaborations with national and international
researchers that seek to characterise optimal, customised lifestyle approaches to protect against cognitive decline and dementia in older adults, as well as design enrichment programs to produce brain vascular changes that protect against cognitive decline. As co-Director of HMRI’s Healthy Minds Research Program, she is leading the Community Healthy Ageing Initiative that aims to make research knowledge accessible to wide sectors of the community so as to inform individuals’ approaches to healthy ageing.

Jane W. Davidson , University of Melbourne, Australia

Jane W. Davidson, Fellow, Australian Academy for the Humanities, undertakes research in performance, musical development, intercultural engagement and music for wellbeing outcomes. She was Editor of Psychology of Music (1997-2001), Vice-President of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (2003-2006), President of both the Musicological Society of Australia (2010-2011) and Australian Music and Psychology Society (2018-2021), and Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (2011-2018). She is currently Head of Performing Arts and Chair of the University of Melbourne’s Creativity and Wellbeing Initiative and member of the Executive management team of the Deans and Directors of Creative Arts (Australia). Jane is an opera singer and director who has made 320+ scholarly contributions and has secured grants and awards in Australia and overseas.

Photo of authors English, Kelly, Dingle, Karayandis, and Davidson




How to Cite

English, H. J., Kelly, M., Dingle, G. A., Karayanidis, F., & Davidson , J. W. (2023). Widening Participation in Creative Activities for Older Adults: A Report on a Symposium Held in Australia. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 23(3). https://doi.org/10.15845/voices.v23i3.3899