Music Is Therapeutic for Older Adults

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Americans in their 80s probably grew up listening to Elvis Presley. If they are a bit younger, they may have danced to the Beatles during their teen years. Seniors who recently reached retirement age may have listened to record albums of musicians who played at Woodstock.

Musical tastes tend to evolve as we age. A preference for dance music may be replaced with an appreciation of mellow tunes. Musical interests may broaden, leading listeners of pop or country music to explore jazz, folk, or Latin rhythms.

Music Is a Must for Many Older Adults

Regardless of the musical genres that an older adult might enjoy, most seniors take time to bring music into their lives. A recent 2024 study conducted at the University of Michigan found that 85% of older adults listen to music a few times a week. About 80% watch musical performances on television or the internet at least a few times during the year. About 41% have attended live musical performances during the past year.

The study found that 17% of older adults play a musical instrument at least a few times a year, while about half of those occasionally play music with others. Almost half of older adults sing regularly, although only 8% sing with other people.

The study found that almost half of older adults reported that music is as important to them in their senior years as it was when they were young. Another 19% regarded music as becoming more important to them as they have grown older.

Therapeutic Benefits of Music

Listening to music may have health benefits for older adults. Most seniors report that listening to music improves their mood or helps them feel energized. The Michigan study concluded that listening to music can reduce stress, improve blood pressure, and relieve depression.

Making music is even more therapeutic than listening to it. Singing in a choir or playing an instrument gives older adults a reason to socialize with others who enjoy performing. Dancing to music adds an exercise component to the social benefits associated with music.

The study found that older adults who are in fair to poor health and those who feel isolated are less likely to listen to music. While music is not a cure for illnesses or loneliness, it does have the power to improve well-being. Research suggests that music reduces pain and anxiety in cancer patients. Music therapy is a promising care option that carries less risk than pharmacological treatment for older adults who suffer from depression.

The Global Council on Brain Health views music as a tool that stimulates the brain. The Council recommends incorporating music into the regular routines of older adults to support brain health. 

Adult children of aging parents might want to consider entertainment systems and a plentiful supply of music as birthday and holiday gifts. Encouraging caregivers to play music as they provide services to parents — or better yet, supplying music that a parent and caregiver will both enjoy — can help create a bond between the parent and caregiver.

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