Why Play Music-Seniors

In This Article:

​How Seniors Benefit From Music

Health and Cognitive Benefits/Facts:

  • Music has been found to stimulate parts of the brain, and studies have demonstrated that music enhances the memory of Alzheimer's and dementia patients, including a study conducted at UC Irvine, which showed that scores on memory tests of Alzheimer's patients improved when they listened to classical music (Cheri Lucas, Education.com, "Boost Memory and Learning with Music," pbs.org).
  • Adults age 60 to 85 without previous musical experience exhibited improved processing speed and memory after just three months of weekly 30-minute piano lessons and three hours a week of practice, whereas the control group showed no changes in these abilities (Nina Kraus, Samira Anderson, "Music Training: An Antidote for Aging?" Hearing Journal, Vol. 66, No. 3, March 2013).
  • Playing an instrument as a kid leads to a sharper mind in old age, according to a new study conducted by Brenda Hanna-Pladdy, a clinical neuropsychologist in Emory’s Department of neurology, and her colleagues.  The researchers gave 70 people between the ages of 60 and 83 a battery of tests to measure memory and other cognitive abilities.  The researchers found that those who had played an instrument for a decade or longer scored significantly higher on the tests than those with no musical background (Quoted in Diane Cole, "Your Aging Brain Will Be in Better Shape If You've Taken Music Lessons," National Geographic, January 3, 2014).
  • Cognitive and neural benefits of musical experience continue throughout the lifespan, and counteract some of the negative effects of aging, such as memory and hearing difficulties in older adults (Parbery-Clark A, A.S., Kraus N. , Musical Experience and Hearing Loss: Perceptual, Cognitive and Neural Benefits in Association for Research in Otolaryngology Symposium. 2014: San Diego, CA).
  • Involvement in participatory arts programs has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health, physical health, and social functioning in older adults, regardless of their ability. The arts also contribute to communicating, building sense of identity, preserving or restoring social capital, and strengthening social networks in communities (Arts in Aging report from the National Endowment for the Arts. Accessed on 8/21/2015 http://www.cms.msu.edu/docs/BenefitsMusic-Adult.pdf).
  • Research shows that music activities (both music listening and music making) can influence older adults’ perceptions about the quality of their lives. Some research has examined the effects of music listening on biological markers of health and subjective perceptions of wellbeing. Other studies on the psychological and social benefits associated with music making activities have demonstrated that participants often place considerable value on these “nonmusical” benefits of music activity (Coffman, D. D. 2002. Music and quality of life in older adults. Psychomusicology, 18, 76-88).
  • Music keeps your ears young. Older musicians don’t experience typical aging in the part of the brain (the auditory cortex) that often leads to hearing troubles. It’s never too late to start taking piano lessons and prevent these age-related changes (The Record.com – Michael Roizen, MD and Mehmet Oz, MD).
  • Playing music reduces stress and has been shown to reverse the body's response to stress at the DNA-level (Dr. Barry Bittman).
  • Playing music "significantly" lowered the heart rates and calmed and regulated the blood pressures and respiration rates of patients who had undergone surgery (Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, Neb., and St. Mary's Hospital in Mequon, Wis.).
  • Blood samples from participants of an hour-long drumming session revealed a reversal of the hormonal stress response and an increase in natural killer cell activity (Bittman, Berk, Felten, Westengard, Simonton, Pappas, Ninehouser, 2001, Alternative Therapies, vol. 7, no. 1).
  • Anger Management Music therapy can help people identify the emotions that underlie anger and increase the patient's awareness of these feelings and situations that can trigger them. If a situation or emotion is presented in a song the healthy options for expressing that feeling can be discussed and conflict resolution and problem solving can be practiced in a positive manner.
  • Drumming is also used by music therapists to help patients appropriately vent anger and other emotions. Another use of drumming can be a non-verbal conversation on drums where the ability to listen to the other person's drumming is needed to "converse" on the drums.
  • Playing a musical instrument can reverse stress at the molecular level, according to studies conducted by Loma Linda University School of Medicine and Applied Biosystems (as published in Medical Science Monitor).
  • Stanford University School of Medicine conducted a study with 30 depressed people over 80 years of age and found that participants in a weekly music therapy group were less anxious, less distressed and had higher self-esteem (Friedman, “Healing Power of the Drum,” 1994).
  • Parkinson's Disease and Stroke: Rhythmic cues can help retrain the brain after a stroke or other neurological impairment, according to Michael Thaurt, director of Colorado State University's Center of Biomedical Research in Music.
  • Researchers have also discovered that hearing slow, steady rhythms, such as drumbeats, helps Parkinson patients move more steadily (Friedman, “Healing Power of the Drum,” 1994).
  • Cancer Subjects who participated in a clinical trial using the HealthRhythms protocol showed an increase in natural killer cell activity and an enhanced immune system. While this does not indicate a cure for cancer, such results may be of benefit for those facing this disease. (Bittman, Berk, Felten, Westengard, Simonton, Pappas, Ninehouser, 2001, Alternative Therapies, vol. 7, no. 1).
  • Playing music increases human growth hormone (HgH) production among active older Americans. The findings revealed that the test group who took group keyboard lessons showed significantly higher levels of HgH than the control group of people who did not make music (University of Miami).


Social Benefits/Facts:

  • Alzheimer's patients who drum can connect better with loved ones. The predictability of rhythm may provide the framework for repetitive responses that make few cognitive demands on people with dementia (Clair, Bernstein and Johnson, 1995).


Quotes/Testimonials:

“We feel strongly that abundant health benefits can be achieved by older adults who learn to make music in a supportive, socially enjoyable setting. We are just beginning to understand the positive effects of making music on our bodies and our physical health.” - Dr. Frederick Tims, principal investigator for the Music Making And Wellness Research Project and professor and chair of Music Therapy at Michigan State University 

New Horizons Music Program (Orchestral Groups for Boomers and Seniors)

Started by NAMM in the early 1990s, New Horizons Music programs provide entry points to music making for adults, including those with no musical experience at all and those who were active in school music programs but have been inactive for a long time. Many adults would like an opportunity to learn music in a group setting similar to that offered in schools, but the last entry point in most cases was elementary school. We know that for most of the last century, about 15-20 percent of high school students nationally participated in music. From that, we can estimate that at least 80 percent of the adult population needs beginning instruction in order to participate in making music. New Horizons Music programs serve that need.

Age Group: