Let the Music Play – Effects of Music on Elderly Adults

When we think of our favorite summer memories, they are often accompanied by a soundtrack in our minds of the music we listened to on the radio or the score from the blockbuster movie of the season.  But music has the power to do more than revive a happy memory, studies have shown that music can be used as therapy for everything from dementia to chronic pain, anxiety or depression.

And with the ability to access millions of pieces of music to stream right from a smartphone or smart speaker, it couldn’t be a better time to use music to promote a better quality of life for older adults, their caregivers and loved ones.  Music can help make a hospital stay a little less clinical, promote social interaction between people and provide a welcome distraction for elderly adults with dementia, alzheimer’s or other cognitive impairment.  Singing along to familiar music can also promote more verbal communication for elderly adults who may otherwise become withdrawn.  It also provides a means of expressing emotions.

According to a review of intervention studies, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, music provides a non-pharmacological intervention that helps reduce resistance-to-care behaviors among seniors with dementia, a major cause of staff burnout and stress in nursing homes.  Resisting care can also place both staff and residents at risk for injury.  By playing the music preferred by a resident during personal care times, studies found patients to be less resistant.

Playing music can ease the distress elderly adults experience as they begin to lose their independence, following the death of a loved one or if they begin to have cognitive problems.  Uplifting, familiar tunes can lower the heart rate, reduce stress and even boost the immune system.   And making music by singing or playing an instrument can bond people together with a common enjoyable activity.   When nursing homes play music, residents report fewer complaints of pain and the mood among health care workers and patients is lifted. 

Next time you visit an elderly loved one or if you are the caregiver of someone with dementia or other chronic illnesses, consider spending a few minutes to gather some familiar songs to sing or play together.  It just might be the brightest spot in your day.