Senior Living Blog

The Healing Power of Music

August 20, 2022

Shot of happy senior woman listening to music with headphones at a retirement home

Most of us enjoy music. Listening to music can feel inspiring or help us celebrate and mark life’s milestones. Much research is showing just how much music promotes healthy aging and a sense of well-being for seniors. For example, after a three-year study of more than 4,000 seniors living in long-term care homes, researchers at Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis discovered that providing personalized music playlists for residents reduced the use of many medications, and pain symptoms and depression symptoms decreased by 16 to 20%. The study also found that the use of personalized playlists helped residents connect to memories and find renewed meaning.

“This study provides further evidence of the positive impact personalized music programs can have for those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” said Concetta Tomaino, DA, LCAT, MT-BC, Music & Memory Board Member.

No matter what a person’s health condition, music influences brain waves, blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and muscle tone. It provides many other important health benefits. For example:

  • Music can decrease the perception of pain. It provides distraction from aches and illness. Listening to music that a person enjoys can actually raise the level of endorphins (brain chemicals linked with a feeling of well-being).
  • Music has the capacity to reach hidden brain areas. It is stored differently in the brain than are speech and memory. This is why people with Alzheimer’s, stroke, Parkinson’s disease or other conditions that cause a diminished ability to speak or carry on a conversation, may still be able to sing.
  • Music serves as a storehouse for memories. Pictures, thoughts and vivid recollections can all be encoded in the mind with music. So by enhancing memory, music is a good addition to reminiscing activities.
  • Music helps people who are cognitively impaired. Many people with dementia become more aware of the present, of their surroundings, and of other people while listening to music.
  • Music is a wonderful resource for people with visual impairment. It provides another way of staying in touch with the world.
  • Music encourages seniors to exercise and be more active. What’s more fun, calisthenics or dancing? With the addition of music, movements become a pleasure rather than a chore.
  • Music can improve sleep quality. Recent studies show that seniors with sleep problems experienced an improvement after listening to soft music at bedtime.
  • Music brings people together. People who “co-experience” the same rhythms, moods and neurological responses enjoy a togetherness which is familiar to concertgoers or church congregations. Listening to music together enhances communication and can lend a sense of unity to people of different abilities and of different generations. Music helps us interact with others and feel part of a group.
  • Music can have positive emotional effects. It can uplift the spirit. It can reduce anxiety, stress and agitation. Music which is associated with pleasant memories can be a source of relaxation. And the therapeutic use of music has been shown to be effective in reducing depression.

Music provides a sense of meaning and fulfillment. Studies show that most of us have our own strong musical tastes, with which we often identify. Reacting to music in one’s own way builds self-esteem.

Categories: Healthy Aging