How Music Can Enrich the Lives of Older Adults

senior playing guitar with his granddaughter

Play It Again, Sam!


How Music Can Enrich the Lives of Older Adults

We know, we know—Ingrid Bergman actually says, “Play it, Sam, play As Time Goes By.” Many of us are unfamiliar with the actual quote, but one thing we can all be sure of is that music has fabulous benefits for seniors. From improving our mood to helping us heal more quickly to encouraging activity, music can be an uplifting emotional and physical force in our lives.

Benefits of Listening and Moving to Music
Simply listening to music can bring us many benefits, including improvements to overall health and cognition. According to the CDC, however, music often leads to movement—specifically, dancing—which improves areas of the brain associated with memory, planning, and organizing.
The combination of music and movement brings many physical and psychological benefits, including improved coordination, better sense of timing and rhythm, and stronger short-term memory, which is particularly important for seniors.

Playing a Musical Instrument
An abundance of research supports the connection between playing a musical instrument and improved cognitive abilities. In fact, having played a musical instrument as a child has ongoing benefits to memory, even if an individual no longer play the instrument; simply having played while young gives life-long cognitive improvement.
And learning to play as an older adult brings added benefits to memory and cognition as well as opportunities for social interaction. Playing music also provides specific benefits to the auditory system, with older musicians not experiencing decline in the auditory cortex in the brain, the location for many hearing difficulties among older adults.

Music Therapy
According to the Cleveland Clinic, Music Therapy is research-supported clinically-based treatment that helps with a variety of conditions, including cardiac problems, depression, autism, substance abuse, and Alzheimer’s disease. Music Therapy can also improve memory, lower blood pressure, improve coping skills, reduce stress, and heighten self-esteem.
Music Therapy is also used to manage pain and reduce muscle tension and was first used by the United States War Department in 1945 to treat veterans. Seniors suffering from chronic pain, mental health disorders, trauma and crisis, or physical illness could benefit from Music Therapy.

Sing, Sing, Sing (with or without a swing!)
Apologies to Benny Goodman aside, singing, like dancing, provides another enjoyable way to engage the body and the brain. Singing can provide a gentle workout for older adults that increases lung capacity and improves posture and short-term memory.
In fact, singing is being used as therapy for patients suffering from respiratory disease as part of a program called Singing for Lung Health. Plus, singing with a group provides the added benefit of socialization.

Music and the Brain
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, listing to music is so engaging and stimulating it is like exercise for the brain. And music provides a particularly good way to use our brains as we age, an effective tool for providing a “total brain workout.”
Listening to or singing songs also benefits those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia because these activities tap into the musical memory areas of the brain. These musical memory areas are usually unaffected by Alzheimer’s disease and are therefore accessible, and often connect to significant life experiences. The area of the brain that creates memories, or the medial prefrontal cortex, is stimulated by music, creating brain activity for dementia sufferers.

The net result is that the brain stimulation provided by music taps into pleasant memories that can reduce stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation as well as improve memory skills overall for Alzheimer’s patients and others suffering from dementia.

Making Music Part of Everyday Life

  • Join or start a music appreciation club; this can be done via Zoom and can also provide social benefits
  • Start a “Singing in the Shower” community singers’ group for fun
  • Set a goal of listening to a new song every week
  • Play music while doing household chores
  • Find music that suits your taste and mood, but consider asking children or grandchildren to share their favorite songs or music with you

Whether you listen with headphones, ear buds, the radio, or vinyl to Mozart or Madonna, get those toes tapping and enjoy some tunes—and all the wellness benefits that come with them!

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