Case Studies of Elderly Care Facilities Engagement Using Theater


To locate academic, peer-reviewed studies in which elderly (or aged) care facilities have seen positive impact on residents' mental & physical health, therapeutic outcomes, creative expression, and interpersonal communication after employing theater professionals (actors, directors, etc.) to engage the residents in experiential performances, e.g., using the lived experiences of the elderly rather than simply putting on a play for them.

Early Findings

Note: We relied heavily on Google's Scholar database, both because of its robust search engine and its ability to find which later works a given article is cited in, making it easier to search for threads of conversation between scholars. Since academic works are requested in the research criteria, we did not restrict ourselves to recent papers (i.e., those published within the past two years) due to the long publication and conversational styles inherent in academia.

Initial research found a relative handful of articles in which "theater" was discussed in the context of elderly care, enabling a quick but exhaustive survey. In the vast majority, the theater in question was a physical part of the facilities. The exceptions were not encouraging for the intent behind this project:

  • Academic works exploring how the elderly are represented in theater are far more common than works examining how theater techniques may assist the elderly (example 1, example 2).
  • A 2018 paper on "social game design" only briefly mentions the elderly, but this is in the context of designing generalized games, e.g., developing non-player characters (NPCs) not in the context of assisting the elderly in real life.
  • The abstract of a 2017 research paper entitled, "'Shall We Dance?' Older Adults’ Perspectives on the Feasibility of a Dance Intervention for Cognitive Function" states that, "Overall, the participants were positive about the potential attractiveness of social dance to improve cognitive and social functioning and other aspects of health," but indicates that no actual study has yet taken place.

A similar survey of articles discussing theater roles (e.g., director, actor, etc.) in the context of elderly-care facilities likewise came up short.

Expanding our research to include role-playing as a tool, satisfying the criteria for interactive experiences for the residence rather than passively watching a play, found that role-playing has been used extensively in staff training (example 1, example 2, example 3), but our initial survey did not find a study of the practice's effectiveness when used on the patients themselves.

We expanded again, conducting a very brief survey of non-academic articles in order to determine the likelihood of success if we eliminated the academic requirement. We found the nature of the non-academic articles to parallel those of the academic works.

Proposed next steps:

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Since there is a dearth of direct research supporting the research thesis, we would provide 2-3 insights into elderly resident interventions designed to improve their overall being, both mental and emotional. We would describe and source the insight, explain how it might be used to justify the use of theater professionals, and provide any available success metrics.
Since any value proposition hinges on need, we would provide 2-3 insights into how cognitive and physical degeneration in a resident increases costs and staff burdens at elderly care facilities. We would describe and source each insight, explain why it is relevant, and, as available, provide expert estimations on the overall cost or man-hour burden per resident.