Music and Active Ageing in Luxembourg

Since its beginnings, Tthe Fondation EME has offeredoffers a project called ‘EME Concerts’, which are concerts of about 45 minutes given by professional musicians and happeningorganizsed directly in Luxembourg's care institutions. Each year, more than 300 concerts are organisedgiven, and a big part of them givegiving our seniors access to the universal language of music. More than just sharing a pleasant musical sensation, music and concerts actually are beneficial for active aging and a better quality of life, particularly relevant in Luxembourg. Why is this so?

Two facts: ageing of the Luxembourg population and multiculturality

The population of Luxembourg is an ageing population. In 2022, nearly 20% of the population of Luxembourg was over 60 years old according to the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. 

Moreover, Luxembourg's senior citizens - like the population in general - have very diverse geographical origins. Thus, one third of the over-60s are not native Luxembourgers. These seniors belong to more than 160 different nationalities: the majority groups are Portuguese, French, Italian, Belgian and German. 

Part of this immigration is explained by the geographical proximity of Luxembourg: many people come to work in Luxembourg due to the job opportunities, and end up settling there permanently. Moreover, Italians were the first to immigratereturn after the Second World War to participate in the construction of the country. Then, a large wave of immigration took place from Portugal in the 1970s, favored by a labor agreement signed in 1972. Only about 6,000 in 1970, the Portuguese now represent 16% of the total Luxembourgish population.  

However, for the time being, this ratio of non-natives is lower among senior citizens than in the rest of the population.... Today, almost 49% of Luxembourg residents aged 50-59 are non-Luxembourgers or have dual nationality, while Luxembourgers still represent 60% of Luxembourg residents over 70 (STATEC, 2020).  Therefore, even though almost 15 per cent of future retirees have indicated that they would like to move abroad - among non-Luxembourgers, this percentage would even be 23.7 percent - it is likely that in the coming years, seniors will represent an increasingly important and multicultural group... 

Seniors, a multicultural and diverse population

But is there only one group of seniors? On the contrary! There is the same diversity of profiles as among younger adults, with the addition of more marked medical constraints.  

Talking about senior citizens could make us think that this group, beyond its multicultural aspect, would have similar expectations. However, a more precise analysis of the seniors shows that it is quite different. 

Indeed, emigration to Luxembourg has been done in successive phases. Each generation has a different demographic composition on a macroscopic scale. For example, until the 1970s, many immigrants found work in the steel industry. After that, the financial sector became more important, while coexisting with the service and construction sectors as major employers. 

There were also various waves of Czechoslovakian, Chilean, Vietnamese and Romanian refugees in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s, the asylum seekers were mainly from the Balkan region. 

Thus, the successive composition of the different waves of migration has resulted in specific linguistic and cultural aspirations. 

In addition to these plural socio-cultural characteristics, the elderly have very different living conditions. They therefore have different expectations in terms of cultural offerings. To begin with, there are marked generational differences between 60 and 90 year olds. In addition, health and possibilities to participate in leisure activities may be different! Finally, not all seniors are on the same level when it comes to aging. Some are saturated with activities and do not need additional activities ... But others, on the contrary, want to participate in cultural activities but cannot find access to them. It is for these people that we must act. 

Some elderly people are indeed at risk of isolation. Nearly 25% of people over 60 live alone, which can be a factor of isolation. Added to this are the risks associated with reduced mobility, loss or health problems (NASEM, 2020). To combat exclusion, ageing must be actively designed. 

Active ageing

The objective would be to offer cultural activities to those who want to participate in them, taking into account the specificities of each person, keeping in mind the aim of active aging. 

Since 2002, the World Health Organization has been advocating active ageing, in order to "facilitate participation, health and security" of the elderly, and to "enable them to age more serenely".

This concept promotes social integration, which would support active and healthy ageing - particularly via intergenerational solidarity. Research has demonstrated the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness on cognitive and physical health as well as increased mortality risk (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2015). 

Participating in group events can then facilitate active and healthy aging. Yet, various barriers may stand in the way of participation in such activities. The 2021 University of Luxembourg & GERO study on "Active aging in the context of cultural diversity in Luxembourg" shows that the different barriers are: language; low sense of belonging to the local population; group size (which is not necessarily adapted to the needs, and are often considered too large by participants); diversity between younger and older seniors; health problems and, finally, other competing occupations. 

The difficulties that arise from the need for language skills in everyday life emerge as a central issue for the integration of seniors into group activities and thus into active ageing for a better quality of life. 

Music overcomes language barriers, and even more

As we have seen, the increase in the number of senior citizens, in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population, creates new needs for activities. The activities offered will therefore have to take into account the specificities of this population. 

One of the difficulties will be to manage the challenge of multilingualism in Luxembourg. Most Luxembourgers speak four languages. Those born in Luxembourg are therefore able to overcome language barriers and find a common language quite easily. But people who have emigrated during their lives are more confronted with language barriers, and even more so if they do not speak Luxembourgish, French or German. One fifth of the non-Luxembourgish seniors (20%) indicate that they are limited in their daily life because of their language skills or are misunderstood. 

Moreover, these same people are often those who have a weaker social network in Luxembourg, as they arrived later and had fewer opportunities to create social relationships in Luxembourg. Statistical studies show that non-Luxembourgers are most likely to be less satisfied with their social relationships and the way they spend their free time. Studies have also shown that people with an immigrant background have a higher risk of loneliness and social isolation

It is therefore for the elderly, for whom the language problem arises and who have a more fragile social network, that social activities are the most essential. 

Music can be a solution

Indeed, music listening activities are by nature culturally equitable. Those who speak a particular language are not favoured, those who don't speak it are not left out. Rather than emphasising the deficit (lack of a common language), music emphasises what binds (a taste for music, sound and rhythm): music creates a bond and connects its listeners. As with Art in general, Sports, or Gastronomy, language is relegated to second place. 

Indeed, through these musical activities, one manages to weave links in a non-verbal way. 

Listening to music restores a whole set of signs of verbal communication; clapping, tapping the rhythm of the foot, smiles, laughter... For elderly people who are losing their autonomy and who have sometimes lost certain faculties of verbal communication, this can have an important impact and contribute to better living. 

With the ageing of the population, there will thus be a real and growing demand for music.  

The concerts of the Fondation EME, a relevant offer for seniors in Luxembourg.

Since its creation, "the Fondation EME has been working to bring well-being, inclusion and dignity to fragile or distressed people, while respecting their diversity". Through its musical action, the Fondation EME promotes the active ageing of the elderly. 

The first projects of the Fondation EME were the so-called ‘EME Concerts’. For about 45 minutes, the foundation's professional musicians  offer concerts of different musical styles to the seniors. Since the creation of the foundation in 2009, there have been more than 2,000 of these concerts, designed to combat the loneliness of seniors. 

The relevance of the EME concerts lies in the fact that they are low-threshold and easy-to-access. By bringing music directly to their care homes or community spaces, the Fondation EME facilitates direct access to culture. The foundation's musicians travel throughout Luxembourg, from Troisvierges to Rumelange, to provide access to music as close to home as possible and in the most accessible way. 

These concerts seek to be relevant to all, and to ensure that everyone can learn something. Indeed, the EME concerts are performed by about thirty musical ensembles, sometimes presenting atypical music, which opens up to the world. For example, one of our ensembles brings to the institutions such surprising instruments as the handpan, the didgeridoo and the Cajon. These instruments surprise all the participants, and create opportunities for exchanges between the participants who wish to discover a little more about them.

Finally, these concerts are always moments of conviviality. The musicians are ready to answer the questions of the participants... Sometimes, when the problem of language arises, the answer is in music! 

In order to be most relevant, the musicians with whom we collaborate are made aware of the issues specific to seniors: this is done through regular training sessions, for example on the theme of dementia for our last session on March 3, 2023. 

When the events are convivial and pleasant, the seniors want to come back and attend new concerts! These moments of shared joy are occasions that structure the daily life of seniors.

CONCLUSION: Music, ageing and social inclusion

Inclusion policies, including for seniors, must take into account the cultural particularities of each person. In a multicultural society such as Luxembourg's, it is essential to find ways to build bridges within the population. For the elderly, medical issues are added to the problems of multiculturalism and socio-cultural diversity.  

The universal language of music is a solution to continue to include everyone in active ageing, and not to leave a part of the more multicultural Luxembourg population aside. 

In an ageing society with increasingly diverse origins, music will play an increasingly central role in linking all these nationalities. The EME Concerts respond to this problem and work in favor of active aging. 

In order to continue, the EME Concerts need your donations to be able to make their sound heard in the structures that need it the most, and that allow our seniors to build social links every day. Donations also allow us to develop more targeted musical projects, adapted to specific needs, and to allow a real encounter between music, artists and participants. 

To put in a nutshell: let’s make music and keep ageing actively ! 

May also interest you:

EME Concert (presentation)

EME Concert (YouTube video)

Le vieillissement actif dans le contexte de la diversité culturelle au Luxembourg - University of Luxembourg & GERO (décembre 2021)

Photos @SebastienGrebille