Listen Up: Music Improves Senior Health

Music Improves Senior Health

If you have ever gotten lost in a piece of music, you know the feeling of time vanishing while your mind, body, and even your soul find an oasis of peace – or maybe a shot of adrenaline! Music can affect one’s mood by stimulating joy over good memories to tears over reminders of heartbreak. Music almost always moves you in some way, affecting your emotions or even your life, one chord at a time.


Interestingly, as we get older, we tend to listen to less music. Those between the ages of 18 - 29 listen to music at a rate triple that of those aged 65 and older. Among popular music genres, the elderly tend to listen to rock & roll and country & western music at a rate higher than that of other generations. And of course, many Baby Boomers still love to buy vinyl records and listen to their favorite music the old-school way, no matter what genre they enjoy.1


But if you think the love of music is a young person’s pastime, think again! Music has been shown to bring unique benefits to senior health. Here are some of the enjoyable gains you can expect whether you are spinning tunes, spending a night at a blues club, or taking in the mellow sounds of an orchestra in the park.


Stress Relief


Music soothes the savage beast, or so the saying goes. Audio-Technica reports that music, especially tunes with a slower tempo of 60 to 80 beats per minute, can have a marked effect on lowering stress levels.2 (Think slow jazz or a gentle tune.)


Studies have shown that music reduces the level of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is the “stress hormone” that is responsible for many bodily responses related to anxiety. When patients listened to music during a surgical procedure, they showed lower levels of cortisol than those who didn’t listen to music.


When you hear music and want to dance, the act of moving to the beat can also lift your spirits, which in turn alleviates stress. The desire to put a bit of pep in your step when you hear a popular song in the grocery store or the need to sing out loud in the car to the tune on the radio can give you a nice shot of dopamine. That improves your mood and thus, lowers stress. It’s a win no matter how you listen.


Improved Brainpower


Whether you are listening to music or making it, the act of bringing music into your life can improve your cognitive ability. In fact, music has been shown to actually affect the structure of the brain as you listen to it over time.


Those who are musicians tend to have certain brain areas that are larger than those who are not musicians, and the earlier a person begins playing music, the larger those brain areas are. This suggests that music affects your brain in a way that changes not only the hormones and neurotransmitters in positive ways, but it actually changes the physical shape of your brain and literally gives you more brainpower!3


Given that, it’s worth taking music to the next level and learning to compose, sing, or play an instrument. When you engage in something that challenges your brain, such as learning how to play something new, you are doing yourself a favor and potentially staving off dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other cognitive problems. And you get the added bonus of better hand-eye coordination!


Enhances Exercise


If you have ever walked through a store when a great beat was playing, you likely started to move to it. Maybe you simply synced your steps to the beat. Perhaps you bobbed your head. The music motivated you to move, even the slightest bit.


In fact, a majority of Americans surveyed by RockMyRun said that without music, they would have no motivation to work out at all.4 There’s a reason why most big gyms have upbeat music blasting!


So the next time you are thinking about working out but just don’t feel the motivation to do so, sit down and create a playlist of the songs that you really love to listen to – the ones that immediately get your heart rate up and make you want to dance – and then take that playlist with you as you go for your brisk walk or your gym workout. You might be surprised by how much further you walk or how much easier it is to handle those free weights.


Remember: As you exercise to that great music, you want to be certain you’re safe, too. Learn the proper way to exercise so that no matter how pumped you are about the music, you are following the safety guidelines that work for your exercise of choice. It’s also a good idea to use a mobile medical alert for elderly adults that is right there at your fingertips in case you ever need help.


And here’s a bonus tip: If you are exercising in an outdoor area, go with medical alert technology that incorporates GPS. You’ll never have to worry about being too far from home or unsure of your location if you need assistance. 


Fosters Social Connection


Being among a sea of happy people at a live show can be an incredible rush of adrenaline. The shared experience brings strangers together and makes them fast friends. Whether you are dancing at the latest pop show or entranced by the gentle sounds of a harp performance, you are connected to others by your shared love and appreciation of the music.


So not only can live music become an event that gathers friends and family to enjoy it together, it also becomes an opportunity to meet with new people who have the same musical tastes as you. This can work well to alleviate social isolation, loneliness, and the depression and anxiety that often come with them. From a health standpoint, loneliness and social isolation in seniors is just as bad – if not worse – than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.5 The CDC tells us that social isolation increases the risk of premature death at a rate that rivals smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity. It increases the risk of dementia by 50% and vastly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.6


Getting out from under the feeling of loneliness and social isolation is vital to good senior whole health. Music can be an avenue to a happier life.


Alleviates Pain


Music therapy is often employed in hospitals, nursing homes, and even hospice care. It’s considered a form of complementary medicine, which means that it enhances what the scientific and medical fields bring to the table for your comfort.


Music therapy can include a wide variety of ways to use sound, from writing your own songs to creating music on an instrument to simply listening to what moves you. Though it can be used for many beneficial things, one of the key benefits of music therapy is alleviating pain.


Many studies over the years have shown that simply listening to music can reduce anxiety and depression, ease tension, and even have a strong effect on pain and pain tolerance. These studies looked at the pain of chronic conditions like arthritis, cancer, or multiple sclerosis, as well as situations that could lead to intense pain, such as childbirth or treatment of severe fractures, like that of a broken hip.


The results were clear: music would at least “take the edge off” the discomfort and pain, allowing a person to better cope with what they were going through.7


Those who want to learn more can check out the American Music Therapy Association.


May Help You Sleep


If you have trouble getting to sleep at night, it might be that your mind is racing and keeping you awake. Music can give your mind something to focus on other than the worries running through it, thus lowering your stress levels and helping you get to sleep faster. And those who go to sleep with music playing softly in the background tend to report having a better quality of sleep and deeper rest.


If you suffer from insomnia or other sleep problems, consider listening to soft, soothing, gentle music at bedtime. While you work with music to sort out sleep issues, always keep in mind that fatigue can lead to serious problems, including an increased fall risk for seniors. Reduce the risk of dangerous consequences of falls by using a button alert for the elderly. This medical alert device can give you the opportunity to call for help at a moment’s notice simply by pressing a button alarm. Within moments, a trained professional is on the line, ready to help.


Try to Incorporate More Music Into Your Daily Life


Are you sold on the wonderful effects music can bring? There are some great ways to get more of those gorgeous sounds into your day-to-day life:


·        Invest in a turntable and vinyl records. These old-school options are making a big comeback and for good reason—the ritual of putting the record on the player can invoke strong nostalgia, and the act of using a turntable helps with dexterity. But besides that, it just looks really cool!

·        Take music with you. You can’t carry the turntable with you but you can pack a ton of music on an MP3 player or on your phone. Streaming services allow you to listen to millions of songs from anywhere, anytime. Make your own playlists or dive into those created by others, or simply look up an artist and listen to their work to figure out what all the fuss is about.

·        Pick up an instrument that you have always admired and start learning how to play it. You can do this with a professional music teacher or go it on your own with YouTube videos and tutorials found for free online. Even if you don’t become proficient, you will have a good time trying (and give your brain a good work out)!

·        Join a music-related group that suits your fancy. Maybe you want to learn ballroom dance and get great exercise at the same time. Or perhaps you can sing like a superstar and want to show off those pipes. Many senior citizen centers or community organizations have choirs and other options specifically for older adults. Finding a group that focuses on music can help you live out those dreams and make new friends in the process. And who knows, you might even decide to try a karaoke night!

·        Go to a concert, especially with friends or family. Many venues offer discounted tickets for seniors, and even those that don’t often have special seating for those who are over a certain age, usually 55 or so. Make it a bigger event by going to a concert that is part of a festival, where you can meet people from all walks of life and enjoy different types of music. (Make note that some festivals are absolutely huge. In such a vast space, a medical alarm can give you peace of mind that if an accident occurs – to you or to anyone else nearby – you can reach out for help with a senior life-saving alert system.)

·        Ask your doctor about music therapy and discuss what form of it might help you most. From listening to music while you do things around the house to composing chords and lyrics on an instrument, there is some level of music therapy that is suitable for everyone.


The next time you’re bopping to the beat in your car, working out to the hard-driving sounds of rock and roll, or even relaxing in an armchair while easy listening is on the radio, consider the power of music to enhance your life.