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Music: The Secret to Mental Health and Balance While Aging

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No matter where you travel, you’ll notice one universal truth — music has a very particular and powerful hold on us all. Cultures everywhere make and love music. This has been the case throughout history. We have used music to relax, communicate and celebrate — the human brain is hard-wired to react to music. According to Kimberly Sena Moore, a neurologic music therapist, “Your brain lights up like a Christmas tree when you listen to music.”

The magic of music goes much further than entertainment — there a surprising number of health benefits for the elderly, and there is a lot of evidence to support the fact that music is a secret weapon when it comes to maintaining optimal mental health and balance in our old age.

Boost Memory by Learning to Play an Instrument

If you want to ensure your memory is strong well into your winter years, consider picking up an instrument. Regardless of what you prefer to play, the act of learning how to play will sharpen your memory recall. This is because the process of learning and playing an instrument requires a great number of complex tasks, such as reading musical notes and knowing where to place your fingers. In time, this expands your working memory capacity and your ability to multiprocess without feeling overloaded. You will also be able to remember information for longer periods.

Music Can Act as a Stress Reliever

Coping with stress can become more difficult as we get older. We have less resilience to it, and it can affect us differently, which is stressful in and of itself. On top of changes in response to stress, we can experience changes in triggers as the years go by, so it is important we all find a way to cope.

There have been many studies to show music has a notable (and positive) effect on our stress and blood pressure levels. In fact, this is the case even if we’re not conscious. One study involving surgery patients found the use of music before an operation reduced stress levels to an even greater degree than anti-anxiety medication. The act of singing sends small vibrations throughout the body, which lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and releases endorphins, thereby helping to keep you calm and collected in trying times.

Music Can Reduce Falls in the Elderly

Remarkably, studies show when the elderly exercise while listening to music, it helps them maintain balance and reduce the risk of falling. Falling is a huge concern for those over the age of 65, and music might well be the answer. According to a 2011 Swiss study, where participants were trained to walk and perform certain movements in time to music, they experienced 54% fewer falls when compared to the control group. The study also found that walking speed and stride length increased as a result.

A Good Drum Beat Can Kickstart Brain Function

The brain instinctively syncs to a rhythm. Because of this, therapists use drumming to get through to patients with severe dementia who don’t normally respond to external stimulus. When dementia patients hear music, you can detect a noticeable shift. They show more of an interest in their surroundings, they clap to the beat or even sing. This is because music can stimulate many parts of the brain simultaneously. Music which was popular when the patient was between the ages of 18 and 25 generally gets the most positive response.

Music Can Soothe Physical and Emotional Pain

Swedish researchers have found your favourite music can be a great pain reliever, as it can distract us and boost positive emotions. Interestingly, by evoking nostalgia, music can help us get through the pain, both physical and emotional.

Music Can Combat Depression and Boost Happiness

A serotonin imbalance in the brain causes depression. When you listen to music, you experience a boost in serotonin, so music can be used as a tool to combat depression in the elderly. Doctors claim the simple act of singing can release oxytocin, providing a significant mood booster. So while music alone may never entirely relieve the symptoms brought about by depression, it can certainly do its bit to enhance wellbeing.

Music Provides Opportunities for Social Interaction

Music can provide an essential source for social contact, which promotes interaction and a sense of belonging. This is increasingly important as we age. By incorporating music therapy and joining a choir, the opportunities to socialise and collaborate let us make new friendships and create new bonds.

Music Can Improve Quality and Quantity of Sleep

Many seniors don’t get as much sleep as they need, which can cause serious medical issues in time. Lack of sleep has been shown to have a profound and negative impact on mental health and wellbeing. A 2009 meta-analysis found music can improve the quality and quantity of sleep. Of course, the benefits may not happen overnight. But if you persist, in as little as three weeks, you should notice a pay off from this relaxation technique. Some of these include falling asleep faster and remaining asleep for longer.

Robert Hohler is the owner of Companions of London, a company that provides families across London with introductions to friendly, professional and reliable care agencies.

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