Exploring the Power of Music as We Age

Health + Wellness   |   By HumanGood

group of three friends playing guitar

Want to keep your brain younger longer? It may be as simple as listening to your favorite music. Music can help us access and process emotions like nothing else can, supporting us through life’s triumphs and challenges. It doesn’t just feel good to listen to, either. It’s good for you — and the benefits may increase as you age. Music for seniors has profound and lasting effects. 

Music challenges the brain in deep and meaningful ways. The literary significance of lyrics, the mathematics of the tempo and structure, and the architecture of a complex piece activate the brain, keeping blood flowing and neurons firing. New music, in particular, challenges the brain, helping to keep it flexible and plastic, a key ingredient in the recipe for healthy aging. 

So, why is music so valuable for older adults? 


Better Mental Health 

Music may feel relaxing and intuitive to enjoy, but your brain is doing a lot of work behind the scenes: interpreting the lyrics, analyzing the melody and tempo, and memorizing favorite pieces. Staying intellectually engaged as you age improves blood flow to the brain and may even help prevent dementia and other neurological conditions. 

Using music to process and understand your emotions, relax or just use as a source of enjoyment offers a myriad of mental health benefits. They include: 

  • A reduction in sleep problems, which tend to increase as you age. 

  • A better mood. Music can help you better connect to your own emotions, making them easier to manage. Many people use music as a mood lifter.

  • Reduced anxiety. When your feelings get overwhelming, music is a potent outlet that can help you feel less alone

  • A better memory. Music can help activate old, long-forgotten memories. And because it keeps you cognitively sharp, it may even help combat age-related memory issues. 

  • Greater alertness. If you have trouble with concentration or energy, music could be part of the antidote. 

The benefits of music for mental health are so significant that many clinicians now incorporate music into various therapies. 

In HumanGood communities, music plays a major role in mental health and in social relationships. 

Douglas from The Terraces at San Joaquin GardensDouglas, who lives at The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, a HumanGood community, has sung in church choirs for more than three decades and is a 20-plus-year veteran of the West Coast Mennonite Men’s Chorus. 

“I get real enjoyment out of singing in a choir,” says the tenor, who enjoys the beauty of bringing voices together. “The idea of harmony is not to stand out but to blend in.”

Douglas says the skills he uses in chorus extend to his social relationships, where he works hard to bring people together and find harmony — even across disagreements. 

Learn about what life is really like at a Life Plan Community by hearing from  real residents. >> 


Better Physical Health 

Mental and physical health are inextricably linked. Chronic stress correlates with a higher risk of numerous health problems and may also make it harder to make healthy lifestyle choices. For many, music improves physical health by boosting mental health. Some other benefits include: 

  • Encouraging physical activity. If music inspires you to get up and dance or work out, it may steadily improve your health. 

  • Reducing blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for numerous heart health conditions. 

  • Easing chronic pain, which can improve your quality of life and increase happiness. 

  • Improving symptoms of a wide range of neurological conditions, such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke. 

Perhaps even more importantly, there is no research showing any negative effects of listening to music on your health (as long as you listen at a reasonable volume). So, it’s an easy, risk-free, pleasurable way to cultivate wellness. 

Allen from Piedmont GardensAllen, a Piedmont Gardens resident, incorporates music into his own life for the pure joy of it. He and his late wife, Ellen, shared a passion for music, dance and theater, so joining the community music committee was a natural fit. 

Allen helps select performing artists and musicians from a wide range of musical styles to visit the community a few times each week.

He also helps foster a community-wide love of music and uses that love to nurture friendships. 

“I will buy tickets to an event and then ask if anyone would like to join me,” Allen says. “We generally make a night of it by going to dinner beforehand and then end the night with a great performance. I get to experience all of this with different people, which makes it fun and interesting.”


Music and Dementia

Dementia remains one of the most feared diseases, with at least one study showing that people fear dementia more than death. Dementia is indeed life-changing, but with the right support, it doesn’t have to be so terrifying. While there’s no cure, researchers continue to uncover new treatment and support options. 

It turns out music might be one of the most important forms of support for people living with dementia. The confusion of dementia often produces agitation and anxiety, which is stressful both for people living with dementia and those who love them. But music may calm frayed nerves, helping people with dementia feel calmer and happier. It can also be a powerful tool for emotional connection, allowing people to enjoy favorite tunes with loved ones even when language and memory become barriers. 

Some research suggests that, just as music activates forgotten memories for the rest of us, it may also unlock memories in people living with dementia. 

HumanGood communities often incorporate music therapy into their Memory Support programs. 


A Happier, Richer Life

For many of us, a life without music is unthinkable. Music is a part of so much — whether it’s the subtle background noise in the grocery store or the booming chorus at a live performance. It helps people connect across seemingly unbridgeable differences, supports us to navigate life’s ups and downs, and reminds us of who we used to be and who we hope to become. 

As you age, and especially after you retire, sustaining close relationships (and making new ones) can become more difficult. People move. Lifestyles change. And if you’re not in the workplace or talking to friends every day, you may feel a bit out of practice. Music is an easy way to connect. 

We’ve all had the feeling of having nothing in common with another person until they share their favorite artist. With so much meaning and emotion wrapped up in music, finding someone else who loves your favorite piece can be like unlocking the key to connection and can help you become fast friends. 

HumanGood communities boast a wide range of options for enjoying music: choruses and bands, live music performances, trips to the symphony and so much more. We’re always working with residents to cultivate new outlets, too, so your creativity may be the only limit to what’s possible.

If you want to know a bit more about what it’s really like to live in one of our communities, check out, Just Who Lives in “Those Places?” A Look Inside Our Residents’ Lives.

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