Did you know that, according to Johns Hopkins, music can be considered medicine for your mind? There are many health benefits associated with music, from improved memory to stress relief, motivation, and even decreased pain from chronic illness. It may come as a surprise to you that something as simple as listening to music can so dramatically improve your quality-of-life. In this article, we’ll discuss several important ways that music can benefit the health of senior citizens.
Music has been shown to have many positive effects on a person’s well-being. Neuroscientists have found that, by stimulating hits of dopamine, music can actually heighten positive emotion in the reward centers of a person’s brain. When this happens, a person will often feel a sense of elation. The positive effects don’t stop there, however. Music is good for reducing stress and anxiety. Listening to music can prevent increases in heart rate and blood pressure, and decrease levels of cortisol–all biological markers of stress. Managing stress is an important skill, not only for senior citizens but for all people.
Another positive effect that music has on senior citizens is that it can decrease the experience of pain. In a study from 2013, a group of sixty people who had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which is a disease characterized by severe pain, were randomly assigned to listen to music once a day for four weeks. Compared to the control group, the people that listened to music reported a significant reduction in pain and fewer depressive symptoms. In another study, patients who had undergone spinal surgery were told to listen to whatever music they wanted on the evening before their surgery and until the second day after. Once again, compared to the control group, those that listened to music reported significantly less pain. While stress management is incredibly important, pain management is often one of the most important considerations for senior citizens. Any supplemental treatment for chronic pain which doesn’t have complicated side effects is very beneficial for seniors.
In addition to relieving stress and pain, music has positive effects on other cognitive functions. According to one doctor from Johns Hopkins, “If you want to keep your brain engaged throughout the aging process, listening to or playing music is a great tool. It provides a total brain workout.” Along with reducing anxiety, blood pressure, and pain, listening to music can improve sleep quality, mental alertness, mood, and memory. Scientists are still studying why music has such positive effects on a person’s brain, but they agree that for seniors, the benefits are crucial. It’s often recommended that seniors try music therapy. If only to promote social interaction, relieve boredom, and calm nervousness, music therapy is as beneficial as it is enjoyable.
In addition to all of the wonderful health benefits that music has on the mind, it also has many positive effects on a person’s body. For senior citizens, it’s important to find the motivation to move around. Researchers in the UK conducted a study where thirty people were asked to walk on a treadmill until they were exhausted. One group had motivational synchronized music, another group had non-motivational synchronized music, and the final group had no music at all. The researchers found that music correlated positively to the amount of time the people were able to exercise. In other words, music helped people exercise longer. While the motivational music helped more, even the non-motivational music contributed to more exercise than no music at all. As exercise becomes more difficult for senior citizens, it also becomes more important. By motivating seniors to improve their physical health through exercise, music can be as beneficial for the body as it is to the mind.
Some researchers even believe that listening to music can improve immune function. For example, researchers at Wilkes University looked at how music affects levels of IgA, an important antibody that our bodies use to fight disease. For the study, undergraduate students had their IgA levels measured before and after 30 minutes of exposure to either a tone click, a radio broadcast, soothing music, or silence. Of all of the groups of students, the ones with the most significant increase in IgA were the students that listened to the soothing music. Another study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital found that hearing Mozart helped to relax critically ill patients by lowering stress hormone levels and decreasing blood levels of interleukin-6. This is important because interleukin-6 is a protein associated with higher rates of mortality, diabetes, and heart problems. While these studies are still in their early phases, the correlation between exposure to music and higher immune function seems promising, especially for seniors who typically experience a decline in immune function.
Dancing along to music can increase an elder’s mobility and coordination, reducing tension and pain. Empowering seniors to be more mobile and independent increased their productivity and overall feelings of satisfaction. For these reasons, many senior centers and retirement communities include music programs as well as musical instruments for seniors to benefit from.
Dealing with Illness
For seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia, listening to music can be incredibly beneficial. A study that was conducted by researchers at the University of Miami School of Medicine found that music therapy increased the levels of melatonin, serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and prolactin in patients with Alzheimer’s. Why is this important? Those brain chemicals are associated with good feelings, improved mood, as well as reduced stress and agitation. The progression of the disease does not affect the brain’s natural response to music. Additionally, music has the ability to evoke memories and emotions from long ago. For seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia, music can sometimes elicit positive feelings. Songs from childhood, or early adulthood, have been shown to have positive effects even on those in advanced stages of dementia.
For senior citizens, the health benefits of listening to music are incredibly important. From aiding cognitive function to improving physical health, and even helping those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, music can play an important role in improving the quality of life for seniors. For even more info, check out Why You Should Learn an Instrument in Retirement.