“Music is one of life’s most important survival tools. It nourishes us, it gives us hope, helps us heal, and gives us the strength to keep going even in the toughest of times.” (Musicians Unite)
Music is a powerful aspect of our lives. Hearing a sad song can instantly cause your mood to shift; while hearing an upbeat tune can energise and uplift you. Many of us experience a deep connection to music, and interact with music on a regular basis. But for older people, music can become even more important. When you consider the pervasiveness of social isolation, loneliness and depression that many older Australians experience, it becomes clear that music can have an extremely important role to play in promoting wellbeing.
Music was the main source of entertainment for people born before the 1950s (the pre-television era). For many older Australians, music played a huge part in their lives for a very long time. Many older people have very strong positive reactions to music, and it’s something that everyone can relate to.
Below are some of the ways music can benefit older people, and how it can be used as a form of therapy to improve the wellbeing of aged care residents.
Music for the mind
Music activates multiple sites in the brain, including the auditory, emotional and motor regions. In fact, listening to or playing music can provide a total brain workout for older people.
Music has a whole host of wonderful health benefits for the mind. These include:
- Stress and anxiety relief
- Improved memory
- Increased motivation
- Decreased pain
- Heightened positive emotions
- Improved sleep quality
- Improved mental alertness and mood
Music can indeed be considered medicine for your mind. Musical interaction and music therapy can relieve boredom in older people, promote social interaction and calm nervousness and anxiety. And playing music can keep your brain engaged and active, leading to further cognitive benefits.
Music for the body
As well as providing incredible benefits for the mind, music can also benefit the body. Music can:
- Help with motivation to move and stay active
- Help improve immune function and fight disease
- Lower stress hormone levels
- Decrease protein levels in the blood associated with diabetes, heart problems and higher rates of mortality
- Improve mobility and coordination through dancing to music
- Reduce tension and pain
- Empower older people to be more independent and mobile
- Reduce blood pressure
Simply singing along to a favourite song (or any song really) can encourage faster breathing, elevate the heart rate and stimulate the brain. Even for those not particularly mobile, tapping along to the beat can burn some calories and be extremely enjoyable. Music can also increase the motivation to exercise and stay mobile.
Music for the soul
Music recalls memories of past times and can be a powerful tool in evoking an emotional response. It’s quite common for older people to listen to music that takes them back to their youth. That sense of nostalgia and being young again can be a powerful feeling. The pleasure of hearing a favourite piece of music creates a positive psychological change over a period of time. And by listening to favourite old songs in a group setting, older people feel more connected to their community and have increased feelings of social affiliation.
Music is often a central part of a person’s identity and is something we can all relate to regardless of age. It provides older people, especially those with limited communication, ways to connect and share moments, memories and emotions with others. It stimulates older people and encourages expression and creative abilities, as well as allowing them a sense of being heard.
Ageing can reduce people’s ability to enjoy things they previously enjoyed – but music is not one of them. No one is too old to enjoy music in some way, shape or form. Even if all you can do is listen, music still provides wonderful wellbeing benefits that can’t be measured.
In sickness and in health
Music can have hugely positive effects on older people who are healthy – and who are sick.
Older people with dementia or Alzheimer’s can powerfully benefit from the use of music as a therapy tool. Music can increase the levels of brain chemicals associated with improved mood, positive feelings and reduced stress and agitation. It can also evoke memories and emotions from long ago.
For older people who are unwell, the health benefits of listening to music are incredibly important. And it’s the same for those who are healthy. Music can help healthy older people stay engaged, active and happy for as long as possible – it’s truly a transformative power.
Music in aged care
All aged care facilities should make music a frequent part of their care and therapy routines. Music can dramatically improve the quality of life for older people, and it’s as enjoyable as it is beneficial.
Beckie Morley, founder of UK company Musical Moments, puts it this way: “Music is magic, and we recommend it every day”.
Here at Finley, we firmly believe that music is good for the soul, mind and body.
We love to incorporate a wide range of music, singing and dancing for our residents to enjoy. From singalongs with visiting performers to cultural concerts and dance performances, our residents are never at a loss for music. We regularly engage musicians from our district to come in and provide entertainment – and the residents love it.