From Mozart to Meatloaf: How Music Helps Seniors

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The world is getting older: by 2030, the number of people aged 60 and over is expected to reach nearly 1.5 billion. Seniors are often spoken of in terms of the challenges they place on healthcare or households, or as part of the reported 'loneliness epidemic'. Frankly, growing old can be painted a rather bleak shade of beige. And yet, ask a senior about their favorite band or a memory associated with their favorite album, and their response will be vivid and bursting with color. From helping brains (both young and old) to boosting fitness, to inspiring and connecting people whatever their age, music is powerful. So if you or a senior you love wants to become a great guitar player, take in a concert or download a new album, go for it; your health will thank you for it!

Boosting the Brain

Scientists have found that music activates all parts of the brain, improving connections within it and increasing cognitive function and productivity. Listening to or playing music also increases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which boosts happiness, and lowers the presence of the stress hormone cortisol, helping to reduce anxiety. Not only can music therefore benefit mental health in general, but it can also greatly help those affected by Alzheimer's disease or dementia. A study from the University of Utah has found that listening to familiar music causes higher levels of connectivity in the brain, potentially providing a means to reach patients who are losing touch with their environment.

Keeping You Moving

Scientists have found that music can also be a powerful ally in keeping fit. Listening to music can help you carry out cardiovascular exercise for longer, and distract you from feelings of fatigue or boredom. It can also return heart rate and blood pressure levels to normal more quickly after your exercise. Choose a favorite album or playlist to accompany your walk, bike ride or jog, and see how much more motivated you feel. Aside from building up your strength and helping you to lose weight, improving your fitness should also help you sleep better and feel more positive in general.

Creating Shared Connections

While recent data suggests that most Americans are lonely, seniors adjusting to retirement or living alone are prone to experiencing feelings of isolation. Again, music can play a part in easing this. Playing an instrument or singing opens the possibility of joining a community orchestra or choir, and with that comes the opportunity for socializing to combat loneliness and its associated health risks. For those who don't play, attending concerts or joining group tours to visit theater shows or performances can be a brilliant way to connect with friends with common interests.

There's no doubt that music can add color and vitality to senior years. Physically, it has been shown to improve brain health, boost positivity and help you exercise for longer. Socially, it can help with forging new friendships and combating feelings of loneliness. If you don't already play or listen regularly, make room for music in your life. It can help your golden years go platinum.

-Sally Writes - MU Columnist
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