Music plays a significant role in many aspects of our lives. Listening to favorite music can help to relax, energize, motivate, or calm a person. Music has always been an attractive topic for researchers. For instance, recent research suggests that music can lift one’s mood, enhance the level of happiness and reduce anxiety (Eerola & Peltola, 2016). Even sad songs can help a person deal with personal or relationship problems. Listening to music stimulates both left and right hemispheres of the brain.
The Mozart Effect theory, introduced in 1993, suggested that listening to classical music improved cognitive and learning capacity, as well as several syndromes and diseases (Verrusio, Moscucci, Cacciafesta, & Gueli, 2015). Although research about music effects on the elderly is relevantly small, studies suggest that music improves the cognitive abilities of seniors, reduces depression, social interaction, and overall well-being.
Music effects on elderly people
The study of Bottiroli, Rosi, Russo, Vecchi, and Cavallini (2014) examined how background music impacted declarative memory and processing speed in sixty-five adults, with an average age of 69. Participants listened to classical music in the background, while researchers assessed their performance on cognitive tasks. Results showed that music correlated with increased processing speed in the brains of seniors as well as improved episodic and semantic memory performance (Bottiroli et al., 2014).
Older adults are commonly affected by dementia. Due to dementia, their ability to carry out everyday life activities declines considerably, and they tend to have depression. Research attempted to find the effectiveness of group music therapy to treat depression and delay the deterioration of cognitive functions in elderly people with dementia (Chu et al., 2013). In their experiments, music therapy immediately showed positive results in reducing depression in elderly people with mild and moderate stages of dementia. Researchers suggested music therapy as being a “noninvasive and inexpensive” treatment for depression in elderly people (Chu et al. 2013, p. 210).
American Music Therapy Association (2017) recognized music therapy as an “evidence- based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship” (para.1). It is used to treat the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social issues of a patient. Music therapy is proven to increase motivation, provide emotional support, and be a useful tool of self-expression.
Research studies also provided substantial evidence of the effectiveness of music therapy regarding social interactions. As reported by Creech, Hallam, McQueen, and Varvarigou (2013), “Social benefits included a sense of belongingness, a sense of playing a valued and vital role in the community, having fun and having contact with younger people in intergenerational groups” (p. 93). Besides listening to music, the elderly were involved in singing, songwriting, and playing musical instruments.
According to the same study, listening to music and active engagement with music provided a source of positive emotion, and contributed to the psychological well-being and fulfillment of basic psychological needs (Creech et al., 2013). Meanwhile, music-making created motivation and independence and served as a source of social affirmation. Thus, music therapy is confirmed to have positive effects on the health, emotions, memory, and social interactions in elderly people.
Music presents a powerful tool for communication, social interaction, and even improvements in health and well-being. The effect of music on people of all ages is backed by a compelling amount of research. In one of the studies discussed above, Creech et al. (2013), said: “Music offers a medium through which older people can re-connect with their youth, experience vitality and feel empowered” (p.100). Listening to music and engaging in music is found to be particularly effective in strengthening declarative memory and cognitive performance, reducing depression, and fulfilling the psychological and social needs of elderly people.
American Music Therapy Association. (2017). What is music therapy? Web.
Bottiroli, S., Rossi A., Russo R., Vecchi T., & Cavallini, E. (2014). The cognitive effects of listening to background music on older adults: Processing speed improves with upbeat music, while memory seems to benefit from both upbeat and downbeat music. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 6, 284. Web.
Chu, H., Yang, C., Lin, Y., Ou, K., Lee, T., O’Brien, A., & Chou, K. (2013). The impact of group music therapy on depression and cognition in elderly persons with dementia. Biological Research for Nursing, 16(2), 209-217. Web.
Creech, A., Hallam, S., McQueen, H., & Varvarigou, M. (2013). The power of music in the lives of older adults. Research Studies in Music Education, 35(1), 87-102. Web.
Eerola, T., & Peltola, H. (2016). Memorable experiences with sad music – Reasons, reactions and mechanisms of three types of experiences. Public Library of Science ONE, 11(6), e0157444. Web.
Verrusio, W., Moscucci, F., Cacciafesta, M., & Gueli, N. (2015). Mozart effect and its clinical applications: A review. British Journal of Medicine and Medical Research, 8(8), 639-650.