Music has the power to move the heart and soul, and experts believe that its benefits extend to both physical and emotional health (Fernandez, 2013). Music is a common denominator across income levels, education levels, cultures and age. It is very diverse and expressive, making it a beautifully unique element to societies across the world. Music has been sought out for various emotional fulfillments and researchers have learned a lot about why it is so powerful and important. Music can immensely impact our growth and health throughout life. Seniors are in a more vulnerable stage of life with loved ones passing and various bodily processes and senses deteriorating. Music positively impacts seniors’ health, happiness and longevity, thus making it a crucial element to incorporate in the lives of our beloved seniors.
THE IMPACT OF MUSIC STARTS EARLY
Music can begin its advantageous work from a very young age. Wheaton College (2019) compiled results from different studies on the impact of music on child brain development. Music helps foster brain development in multiple areas. Children who were trained in music from a young age retained and learned information more efficiently and had better impulse control. Musical training improved vocabulary, grammar and reading skills. It also improved rhythm and fine motor skills. Furthermore, “study in the arts develops character traits such as discipline, perseverance, teamwork, patience, self-control, problem-solving and empathy” (Wheaton College, 2019, p. 1). These positive outcomes were observed in children, and music continues to leave healthy, beautiful marks on people throughout life.
MUSIC, MIND AND INTELLIGENCE
Harvard Health Publishing (2011) explains some of why music can bring about so many positive effects. Music has been a part of practically all cultures throughout history. Musically talented or not, people sing, clap, dance, and hum. The nervous system and brain are built to respond to music. Many parts of the brain are involved in hearing music, pitch, recognizing instruments, rhythm, and one’s emotional/spiritual response to music. Musicians’ brains are well-trained in executing those functions. Injury to the brain can alter one’s response to music. Fernandez (2013) stated that scientists have learned that music strengthens the connections between neurons in the brain, thus improving our capacity to learn and retain information (Fernandez, 2013).
Harvard Health Publishing (2011) goes on to explain the links between music and intelligence. Multiple studies have looked at how music affects performance on various tests. One study showed that listening to Mozart before IQ tests slightly improved scores. Researchers believe that music kind of “warms up” the brain so that it can function more efficiently (p. 1). Many people who practice medicine are also music enthusiasts. Musicians often excel in mathematics. One study showed that stroke victims improved their “verbal memory” faster when listening to music for at least one hour a day (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011, p. 3). These benefits combined with the effects of music on child brain development previously discussed, make music an exceptionally effective tool for us to use to be as well-rounded, bright, and healthy as possible. When having one of those days when your mind is forgetful and everything seems to be going wrong, maybe it is time to turn on some music.
MUSIC AND HAPPINESS
And, music does not only improve cognitive function. Lehmberg (2010) studied the benefits of music for seniors specifically and found that music greatly improved quality of life. Music often brings joy. It makes us smile and not focus on all of the challenges facing us at the moment. It can give feelings of success or accomplishment. It is a positive outlet for emotions and creativity. It can help us to first acknowledge our insecurities. Then we can voice those truths, no longer feeling isolated, alone, or forced to hide our secrets. Lastly, singing out or hearing the truth, can help us accept ourselves for who we are, with strengths and flaws included (Lehmberg, 2010). Making music, listening to music, or dancing to music can often just bring a smile, giving us the ability to face challenges and accept the things in life that cannot be changed.
Perry (2017) describes of a program between the University of Massachusetts and their Senior Center. In a room of laughter, seniors and university students move to the music they are creating together. The school focuses not only on teaching music, but on how music can be incorporated in the community for good. The Senior Center previously had a working relationship with the school’s physical therapy department. They wanted a similar relationship for the seniors with music. The school provided tambourines, shakers, keyboards and drums for the seniors to be a part of playing music together. They were hesitant for the first song, but when the students started their rendition of “Johnny’s Cash’s Ring of Fire,” the seniors all came alive with movement and joy. Music helps people of all ages to feel alive (Perry, 2017, p. 1).
MUSIC AND SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL HEALTH
The positive emotional responses to music do not stop with happiness. Music can also help people build relationships and stay optimistic. Having good friendships, even with just a few people, goes a long way in contributing to that positive quality of life. When we take part in enjoyable activities together, laughing at mistakes and rejoicing at successes, strong connections are built between us. Harvard Health Publishing (2011) stated that music is often used to express feelings. It can change emotions. When feeling sad or irritated, music can lift our spirits. It can change our negative attitudes into more optimistic attitudes, even for people who struggle with depression. It can also improve sleep while reducing pain and disability, again improving optimism and quality of life (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011).
Fernandez (2013) confirms these social/emotional benefits, stating that musical involvement can decrease isolation, help people feel a sense of belonging, and create friendships. The ways that music improves life all so well-known that the University of California San Francisco has initiated a study that will measure health benefits from seniors’ participation in community choir. Over a year’s time, approximately 400 seniors will have weekly choir sessions that last 90 minutes each. “The project will assess the impact on participant’s cognition, mobility, and overall well-being during their choral year.” It will include assessing changes in loneliness, mood, memory, balance, strength and coordination (Fernandez, 2013, p. 1).
MUSIC AND STRESS
Harvard Health Publishing (2011) also detailed various studies that have shown how strongly music reduces stress. A study on heart attack patients showed that music decreased stress and anxiety. Another study had similar results, but on people undergoing surgery. Stress levels were initially the same between the music listening group and the control group, but stress levels reduced faster for those who had listened to music. Music has a calming effect even on people who are unconscious, lowering heart rate and blood pressure, reducing the amount of adrenaline, a stress hormone, in the blood. Slower tempo music calms people while faster tempo music arouses people. But, when faster tempo music stops, heart rate and blood pressure drop lower than the normal level, still ultimately having a calming effect (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011). Stress can be toxic when it is too extreme or prolonged, so we can all use a healthy dose of music in our lives.
MUSIC AND MOVEMENT
Music has immense cognitive and emotional benefits, as well as physical. Harvard Health Publishing (2011) explains that music helps with movement by reducing the risk of falling for seniors who trained, walked, and moved to music (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011). The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (2008) details how movement is good for the body. It exercises our hearts, muscles, and lungs, keeping us in better condition. It helps in preventing many ailments, sicknesses, and injuries. Joints stay healthier when regularly moved. Movement builds muscle strength and balance (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2008). Moving to music with choreographed or detailed instructions additionally helps with coordination and muscle memory, effectively exercising our brains and bodies altogether.
MUSIC AND CULTURAL EVENTS
Music also provides an avenue for cultural/social involvement. A study recorded by Harvard Health Publishing (2011) showed that people who regularly attended “cultural events” lived longer (p. 5). Researchers believe that may be due to concerts being spiritual, activating parts of the brain that increase good hormones and healthy immune systems. Music can express values, thoughts and dreams. We can express feelings and convictions through music, sharing them with the community through concerts or other cultural events (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011).
Music is a multifaceted goldmine that we can tap into to holistically improve life. With age and illness seniors can feel isolated and purposeless. Music can help in connecting them to others through an art that is healing and uplifting. People, who have started programs like the University of Massachusetts that encourage seniors to feel connected to others and alive through music, are very admirable. Music can be incorporated into so many things, including exercise, concerts, games, performances, meditation, yoga, and more. Think about the seniors you know and love. How can you brighten their worlds and lives with the power of music?