There is no denying the power of music. Across cultural and societal lines, music has been proven to bring people together. A recent study from the Tokyo University of Arts went so far as to claim this was why music was first developed: to create communities and societies. As we age, music plays an important role in our quality of life.
Last April, live renditions of piano pieces could be heard echoing throughout several Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services (CMSS) locations. The Music Institute of Chicago (MIC), which provides musical education for people of all ages and abilities, chose CMSS as one of their partners during their inaugural 2015 Community Music Festival. During this festival, MIC students played 100 concerts over 16 days across the Chicagoland area.
“At Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, we believe music is an important and powerful resource for our community, and have always incorporated it into our programming. It can have a profound effect on seniors, just as music moves all generations.” said Ann Brennan, Coordinator of Volunteer Programs and Development Administration at CMSS.
“Two MIC students, Cheryl Stone and Norris Larson, played the piano at each of our three communities, bringing much joy to all. Mr. Larson, who learned how to play the piano in his early 70’s, had to finally stop playing after three encores at Covenant Home because his hands hurt from playing for so long. You could tell he was thrilled to have such an encouraging and appreciate audience!” she said.
Though no doubt rewarding for the volunteers who came to play, this performance also had a huge impact on the seniors in attendance. Playing and listening to music can have tremendously positive effects on seniors, both physically and emotionally. According to studies detailed by Music Education Research International, “Active music participation holds numerous benefits for senior citizens,” from mental and physical health, to overall happiness.
Below are some of the many benefits music can have on older adults.
1. Memory Enhancement
Throughout life, music often finds itself tied to unique memories. A time in your past may be defined by one particular song or style of music. This is no different for seniors; music can have a huge impact on mental health.
A study published in the Oxford University Journal, Cerebral Cortex, found that memory can be improved by listening to music. Music can force a kind of automatic recall, bringing what may have been considered a previously lost memory back to the surface, while also exercising a person’s day-to-day short term memory. For seniors with dementia, this is a hugely powerful tool.
In the video below, a man suffering from dementia who rarely speaks or moves suddenly comes alive when presented with music from his past.
2. Improvements in Overall Health
While music is proven to help with memory, active participation in music has shown to have many other health benefits for seniors, including:
- Pain and stress relief, which can lead to a reduced need for medicine and an overall healthier life.
- Stroke recovery, where listening to music helps increase verbal memory while also reducing the risk of recovery slowing depression.
- Blood pressure and heart health improvement as a result of listening to classical music.
- Boosting immune system health, affording seniors the ability to better ward off diseases.
3. Greater Happiness
Engaging with a community via music has immense benefits on people of all ages, but especially so with older adults. Living an active lifestyle is key to slowing the effects of aging, and participation in music helps shape this lifestyle.
The National Institute on Aging recommends seniors learn something new, including playing an instrument, to achieve a more active lifestyle. The institute makes note of how aging can sometimes lead to isolation, which in turn raises the risks of seniors falling into depression. Playing an instrument and learning from others, however, can encourage group socialization, which dramatically reduces these risks.
According to Music Education Research International, “Through music participation, senior citizens are able to (a) increase self-understanding, (b) achieve success as learners, (c) participate in experiences that are rewarding and interesting, and (d) express themselves creatively. These elements have been shown to enhance the quality of life of older adults.”
What this all adds up to is a greater level of happiness for seniors, which only increases mental and physical health. Studies have proven this, and volunteers like those from MIC have put it into action. A little music can go a long way.