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The benefits of music for older people

14th November 2016

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

Music, one of the world’s most interacted-with arts, has been proven to be more beneficial for older people than previously thought. Whether it be listening to the smooth, soft tones of Jazz or winding down with classical notes from the comfort of riser recliner chairs, music can improve the quality of life of older people in numerous ways.

Music therapy has been used to treat people of all ages to overcome symptoms of depression, anxiety and loneliness for a number of years. However, after recent scientific research was conducted on its benefits, music therapy has seen a huge increase in popularity with older people, especially those suffering with dementia. 

Speaking to the Complementary Medical Association, Barbara Else, senior advisor of policy and research at the American Music Therapy Association, explains: “We have such a deep connection to music because it is ‘hardwired’ in our brains and bodies. The elements of music – rhythm, melody, etc. – are echoed in our physiology, functioning and being.”

Older individuals have started to participate in group music sessions within their local communities and those set up by dedicated charities supporting older people through their mutual love of music, enabling them to enjoy later life and reducing the risk of common diseases at the same time. So why is music so significant for older people, and what can we learn from this? Below are just some of the reasons as to why people are turning to music as a form of therapy for the mind and body. 

The benefits of music for the mind

 

Music has evolved over the decades to provide different genres and niches to cater for social development. However, it isn’t uncommon to find older people still listening to the music that takes them back to their childhood, bringing nostalgia and a sense of youth into the present day. This is a perfect example of what music can do for the mind. As well as social affiliation and the feeling of being a part of a community, the pleasure and arousal from hearing the type of music in question, whether it be soft jazz, ballroom or war time music, brings about a positive change psychologically over a period of time.

The British Association for Music Therapy says: “Music is something that we can all relate to regardless of age, and is often central to a person’s sense of identity. It provides us with ways to connect and share feeling, memories and moments with others, and offers stimulation and encourages expression. Music therapy can also enhance exploratory and creative abilities, as well as foster self-esteem and the sense of feeling valued and heard.

“Music therapists work with older adults to support their emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. For a person with dementia, this might mean helping them to connect with their family through shared music making, helping them to feel valued and heard.”

We have all experienced the uplifting qualities that music can bring to our lives, whether that is enjoying it with family or friends, or listening to songs that we associate with special moments from the past. But for older people, music can mean so much more, and that’s where charities such as Live Music Now come in. Their organisations support and enhance the lives and wellbeing of older people in later life through music and singing workshops within care homes around the country. 

Image Credit: Live Music Now 

In line with recent research conducted by the organisation into the benefits of singing for older people, Douglas Noble, strategic director at Live Music Now says: “Taken as a whole, research on group singing for older people shows convincingly that singing can be beneficial for psychological and social wellbeing.

“In addition, it may have a role in helping people manage a wide range of health issues, including mental health challenges and physical health problems associated with chronic respiratory illness and Parkinson’s [disease]. It is clear also that singing activity can positively engage people with dementia across a spectrum of severity from mild to late-stage.”

With help from organisations like Live Music Now, older people have the opportunity to meet new people and interact with those with a mutual love for music. Although listening to your favourite songs from the comfort of your rise and recliner chair is a great way to spend a few hours, there is nothing better than sharing those moments with your friends! Retire At Home describe this perfectly: “Whether the music is listened to with headphones or enjoyed in a group, it will lift the spirits and promote a greater sense of life and living.

“Music therapy is like food for the soul. It can bring joy to the heart and fresh air to the lungs. Singing songs and letting rhythm move both body and mind to better health and happiness is a therapy that is free!”

As io9 states: “According to a recent analysis of 400 published scientific papers, the old adage that “music is medicine” may literally be true. The neurochemical benefits of music can boost the body’s immune system, reduce anxiety, and help regulate mood. The time has come for doctors and therapists to start taking music much more seriously.” 

The benefits of music for the body

 

Whether it be ballroom, salsa, the fox trot or new age hip-hop, the benefits of music for the body are endless! Combining the positive effects of exercise through dancing, as well as the psychological enhancements by listening to music you, in a sense, have a combination more powerful than any other therapy. For those older adults with reduced mobility, the fun and enjoyment can still be experienced by tapping away to the rhythm of the beat.

Music can alter an individual’s mood for the better. Retire at Home comments : “It has been found that even such minimal movement as tapping a foot or clapping hands is enough activity to release pent-up mental and physical stress, and bring a little joy into the room. For many seniors who are able, dancing to music is a wonderful way to exercise. Being swept into the rhythm of music can lower blood pressure and stimulate organs in the body.”

In line with this, the Telegraph reported last year that older people want to join dance community groups across the UK thanks to popular TV shows. The article highlighted: “Inspired by Strictly Come Dancing and an increased focus on fitness, organisations are reporting an unprecedented demand for tailored adult classes, which range from ballet and ballroom to seated dance for those with limited mobility. Last year, the Royal Academy of Dance saw a 70 per cent increase in new dancers aged over 50, many of whom are much older.”

Musical Moments is an award-winning company which works to improve the well-being of the community through the use of music and movement. Beckie Morley, founder of Musical Moments, explains: “Exercise is extremely important for older people, even if it is just small movements for older adults who may be frail, and adding music to your routines will certainly help to keep the motivation needed and may also result a fantastic bonding session for you both.” 

 

Image Credit: Musical Moments

Beckie continues: “If you want to try exercise or movement with an older person, find out what their favourite genre of music is, or favourite artist. We all love to dance to our favourite songs or singers, so make sure you choose to fit your audience. Always make sure to take care and assist older people, as they may not be able to do things they could have done when they were younger, so perhaps keep your exercises chair-based, or support them if they want to stand.

“We've noticed increased mobility over the years, as have the care staff that work with them on a daily basis, and we have also inspired care homes to deliver their own similar activities with their residents on a more regular basis. 

“Even just singing along to a fast-paced song can help to raise the heart rate, encourage faster breathing and stimulate the brain. Music is magic and we recommend it every day.”

It’s thanks to the revival of both music and dance that older people have now got an opportunity to re-live the past, within the present. Individuals are now beginning to understand the importance of both, either separately or as a combination, and are benefiting from the never-ending list of positive effects on the mind and body. Why not take the opportunity to see if there are dance groups for older adults running in your local community on the internet? With so many recognising the importance of social interaction through music, you’ll never be too many steps away from sharing your passion with others!