Many older adults who live alone or in long-term care face another season of isolation. Staying in touch with loved-ones virtually or with handwritten notes is important to protect mental health and well-being. But with the power to lift the mood and reduce the risk of depression, music can be a simple way for people of all ages to reduce stress and promote cognitive health.
According to a recent Time magazine report, studies have found that music can improve blood flow, lower cortisol levels, and ease pain by selectively activating neurochemical systems and brain structures. Researchers have found the right music helps regulate emotion and creates positive changes in attention and memory.
By tuning out the world, with all its unsettling news, music can offer people a source of calm and peace or a much-needed boost in mood and energy. Listening to familiar music during the holiday season can help older adults feel joy, comfort, and tap into happy memories of childhood. It can also promote better sleep quality. Instead of drifting off in front of the television, try turning off devices and listening to restful music.
A 2016 West Virginia School of Public Health study found that a music listening program offered significant improvements in stress levels, well-being, sleep, and quality of life among older adults with subjective cognitive decline. Seniors with Sickle Cell Disease are at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, impaired sleep, poorer quality of life, and poor mental health. Meditation and music listening both offer neuroprotective benefits for older adults to help stem further cognitive decline.
Interestingly, the same study found that the wrong music can have the opposite effect, causing agitation. Think of music that is typically played in supermarkets during Hallowe’en and you’ll understand that sometimes silence is better than the wrong kind of music. A 2015 study from Denmark explained the mechanics of how the rhythms we choose affect emotions which can be negative just as easily as positive. The music we choose has a definite effect on our heart rate and brain activity. Of course, we all have memories of our past that associate positive or negative feelings with the music of the day. Our first dance, the song that was playing as a romance ended or perhaps a favourite band’s music that marked transitions in our lives.
While not all families may be able to gather in person this holiday season, sharing music with an elderly loved one can be a meaningful and uplifting gift. A collection of seasonal music or favorite songs on CD, loaded on an MP3 player or curated on a digital device like the Echo Show or Nest Hub Smart Display can lift spirits and bring joy for older adults. For seniors with dementia, check out the iGuerburn Simple Music Player, a device that simplifies music listening for people with memory loss, low vision, or limited physical function. Picking the right music to stimulate positive memories can be a joyful experience for both giver and recipient.