Its Never Too Late to Start Learning Music!

Written by Shankar Mahadevan Academy on 03 December 2015

How Music Therapy Can Enrich the Lives of the Elderly:

“I think music in itself is healing. It's an explosive expression of humanity. It's something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we're from, everyone loves music.” - Billy Joel
The use of music therapy as a well-established positive intervention tool is being currently researched to promote healing and improve the quality of life among senior citizens. Researchers are finding out that any kind of musical activity, including learning to play an instrument, singing or even just listening to music can bring about multiple benefits among the older generation. In fact, music can be used therapeutically to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. 
Read on to find out more about how music therapy can enrich the lives of the elderly. 

The Benefits of Music Therapy in the Elderly:

• Music increases social interaction:

Music has universal appeal and its power to draw people together can be used in helping the elderly build social connections. People usually feel a sense of community when singing or listening to music in groups and the use of familiar song material can often be the impetus for establishing social awareness and interaction among seniors. A blog posted on the website, outlines the benefits of music as an aid for social interaction and communication among seniors. “Through music, assisted living residents with these health conditions are able to live more fully. They are not defined by their conditions or their need for medicines and skilled medical care. They become engaged members of a supportive community that encourages emotional growth, sharing, and self-worth. This can be vitally important to seniors who experience a number of difficult life events such as retirement, the death of a loved one or spouse, and the need for help with common tasks.”

• Music enhances memory and recall:

Music has shown dramatic results in improving memory and recall, especially in those elders affected by dementia, memory problems or Alzheimer's disease. Chreanne Montgomery-Smith, member of the Alzheimer's Society, London, and founder Singing for the Brain, a singing group for elders with memory problems, has found the project to be extremely successful. "We do have quite an avid following in the group that we have. Families believe it has enhanced their lives and in some ways it has kept people well longer. People who have constant memory problems are so undermined by this, but somehow the memory for singing is preserved for ever in the brain and it gives people a lift when they can remember things," Montgomery-Smith says.
“This may be due to the fact that the part of the brain that works with speech is different than the part that processes music, which is what allows people with significant speech difficulties to still enjoy music as an activity,” says Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society and professor of age-related diseases at King's College, London. Liz McNaughton, who is a freelance voice coach with Singing for the Brain, feels that music has the power to bring back words. "It would seem, and there is a lot of research about this, that the music has the ability to access words. It is so powerful that people who have lost their ability to speak can access songs and words from the melody," she says.

• Music reduces stress and anxiety:

Much research has been conducted on the relaxing effect of music, but elders especially seem to benefit more from listening to music. A study published in The Journal of Advanced Nursing showed that older adults who developed a habit of listening to music for 45 minutes prior to bedtime slept better and longer. The study also reported a marked improvement in the quality of their sleep. This is primarily because listening to music decreases the levels of adrenalin and increases those of serotonin, a hormone which peaks when a person is in a meditative state or when they go through a creative period. 
In the elderly, stress and anxiety, often work as catalysts in aggravating heart rate, blood pressure and insulin levels which in turn are major risk factors for chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. While there are no claims that music can cure diseases, activities like singing and listening to music can lighten the mood and help elderly patients relax better.

• Music alleviates pain and promotes physical rehabilitation:

Research has also shown music to reduce pain, especially in older patients. Doctors in the coronary care unit of Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore report that a half an hour of listening to classical music produced the same effect as ten milligrams of the painkiller Valium. Another study that was reported in The Journal of Advanced Nursing (2003; 44:517–24), found that regular listening to classical music decreased the pain caused by chronic osteoarthritis (OA) in community-dwelling elders. Sixty-six community-dwelling people aged 65 or older with a diagnosis of OA were randomly divided into two groups. The treatment group listened to 20 minutes of Mozart selections each morning for 14 days. The control group sat quietly for 20 minutes each morning for 14 days. Participants in the music treatment group reported significantly less pain than those in the control group.

• Music improves immunity and general health:

A Senior Singers Chorale was formed by the Levine School of Music in Washington, D.C., as part of a three-year study that examined how singing affected the health of those 55 and older. The seniors involved in the chorale showed significant health improvements compared to those seniors involved in two separate arts groups involving writing and painting. The singers reported fewer doctor visits, lesser eyesight problems, reduced incidence of depression, lesser need for medication and fewer falls and other injuries.
Dr. Gene D. Cohen, director of the Center on Aging, Health, and Humanities at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and lead researcher was surprised at the results. “My surprise was not a factor of whether the intervention would work, but how big an effect it would have at an advanced age," said Cohen. "The average age of all the subjects was 80. This is higher than life expectancy, so, realistically, if an effect were to be achieved, one would ordinarily expect to see less decline in the intervention group compared to the control. The fact that there was so much improvement in many areas was the surprise factor."

• Music decreases feelings of depression and loneliness:

Music has been shown to decrease feelings of depression and loneliness, a significant feature that affects a large percent of the senior population. Frederick Tims, Ph.D., MT-BC, Chair of Music Therapy at Michigan State University, and principal investigator for a University of Miami Alzheimer’s project on music therapy, led a highly respected team of researchers to conduct a study on the effect of music on elders. The end result demonstrated that group keyboard lessons given to older Americans significantly improved anxiety, depression, and loneliness scores. Speaking of the astonishing effect that music has on health of the elderly, Dr. Tims said, "We feel very strongly that the work we are doing here suggests that abundant health benefits can be achieved by older people learning to play music in a supportive, socially enjoyable setting."

Online resources you can use:

Seniors can enjoy watching many of the old time Bollywood hit songs on If you wish to listen to Bollywood music instead, try which offers free streaming of more than 10,000 songs or which streams songs with lyrics. For old English pop songs from the 1940’s onwards, try AOL’s Decades and Oldies radio stations.
The website, which promotes relaxation music for the elderly, offers five excellent relaxation tracks available for free. Another site, offers unlimited piano and keyboard resource materials including instructional videos, web sites, and tutorials on basic piano and keyboard skills.
Numerous music apps are also available for free download. You can test your music knowledge with apps like Curtis Thorne’s Music Quiz!, and if you think you are a music whiz, check out Strands Music Quiz app which customizes quizzes based on your listening preferences.
For those interested in learning Indian classical music, The Shankar Mahadevan Academy offers a wide range of online courses, designed for easy learning at the comfort of your home. Seniors can learn to sing Indian classical songs, Devotional songs or Bollywood numbers at their own pace with the specially designed OM (Online Music) books. “Today, the best thing one can gift a talented family member, relative or friend is an opportunity to learn music. And since my music academy is online, it has the potential to really grow and take our music across borders and boundaries,” says Shankar Mahadevan, founder of the Academy. Gift your elderly relatives and friends the joy of learning music and enrich the quality of their lives. Learn more at 

Did you know that music can be used as a therapeutic tool to enrich the lives of the elderly?