Music for Healthy Aging

Almost everyone loves music. We use it as a soundtrack to our lives, in both happy moments like weddings and birthdays, and in more somber moments. Music can recall powerful memories of important moments in our lives.

Our love of music is innate. Babies will bop along to a song that catches their ears, and toddlers might dance along to a song as soon as they can walk! There are a variety of styles and tastes in music, but the appreciation of music is nearly universal.

The connection between music and brain health is one that has been studied quite extensively in the last decade. The National Institute of Health has put $20 million into studying the science of how music affects our brains. The study is part of the Sound Health Initiative, a collaboration between the Kennedy Center and the National Institute of Health that will explore the potential healing qualities of music.

“We hope that these in-depth studies of the science behind music’s influence and impact on the brain will bring real understanding of something we know anecdotally — that music is good for you,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter.

The way that the brain interacts can literally be seen in scans of the brain. Johns Hopkins researchers observed musicians and rappers improvise music while inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. While the musician played or rapped, the scientists observed which part of their brains lit up. As it turns out, there is no single location where the brain processes music. Instead, the act of listening to or making music gives our brains a big workout. Although we don’t feel it at the time, music fires up many different parts of the brain. When we listen to music, we process memory, emotion, anticipation, rhythm, pitch, and tone. That’s a lot of brain work!

While research is underway, there are a lot of things we’ve already learned about music’s important connection to brain health and healthy aging. Here are just a few of the health benefits of listening to music:

  • Music improves our mood. If you’ve ever put on a favorite song to get yourself in a better emotional state, then you already know this! Music can lift up our spirits and relax us.
  • Music can reach seemingly hidden parts of the brain. Research into music and Alzheimer’s disease has shown that long after people with dementia stop responding to words, they can still respond to their favorite music or sing a song after they have stopped speaking.
  • Music can change the perception of pain. It provides a distraction from aches and illness. Listening to music that a person enjoys can raise the level of brain chemicals that give us a feeling of well-being.
  • Music brings people together. Whether it is singing in a group choir, or performing in a band, music can be a very social activity. Joining together in a musical environment brings unity to people of different abilities and of different generations. And listening to music together gives older adults increased social cohesion and a sense of community.

No matter what age or ability, music can help our bodies and brains. So go ahead and tune in to what makes you happy.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from the National Institute of Health and Johns Hopkins University.