The Science of Sound: Do Older Musicians Enjoy Life More?

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The Science of Sound: Do Older Musicians Enjoy Life More?

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seniors-and-musicThere’s a line in an old Cary Grant movie that is hard to forget. One of the characters, an aging gentleman, is asked whether he enjoys music. His answer, not surprisingly, as he settles in to his rocker and turns on the radio, is “More than anything.” He then closes his eyes, and the sounds of music fill the air.

Is it possible that the sounds of music are more appreciated by senior ears?

The answer to that question seems to come as a resounding "yes." Music has countless benefits for seniors— whether you’re sitting down at the piano to play it yourself or just listening to your favorite concertos.

Music and the Senior Brain

According to Dr. Charles Limb, associate professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins University, “there's enough evidence to say that musical experience, musical exposure, musical training, all of those things change your brain. It allows you to think in a way that you used to not think, and it also trains a lot of other cognitive facilities that have nothing to do with music."

And while this holds true for musical lovers of all ages, music has special benefit for seniors.

Music can be viewed as a way to stimulate activity, increase social interaction, provide relaxation and fun, enhance the quality of life, and keep mind and body engaged. Group “sing-alongs and impromptu hoe-downs have been known to erupt spontaneously when someone sits down at the piano or pulls out the harmonica.

Learning to make music later in life could even be considered a healthy activity.

Scientific evidence suggests that listening or learning to make music later in life is an excellent way to exercise you mind and prolong healthy brain function.

It has long been known that regular, challenging activity can stave off the degenerative brain changes associated with diseases like Alzheimer's. And many studies have shown that simply listening to music improves memory. This makes sense, as both hearing and memory are processed in the temporal lobe.

Even if you have never played an instrument before, it is possible to learn as a senior citizen.

Learning to play a musical instrument should be no more difficult for seniors than for young children, according to those who teach music. In fact, the desire to learn may be stronger in older adults, and practice time is easier to schedule.

Advantages of learning to play as a child are well known in terms of cognitive brain growth, stimulating learning and encouraging mastery of a skill; recent findings suggest, however, that even if you don’t pick up a bow or put a reed to your lips until well past the prime of life, benefits still accrue to the senior brain, fortifying against memory loss and cognitive decline.

There is certainly no truth to the old saw that you can’t “teach an old dog new tricks,” and researchers are increasingly supportive of the notion that older brains, as well as bodies and personalities, can benefit from embarking on new learning experiences.

Music-making as a senior might, however, involve a lighter, more manageable instrument than a heavy brass horn, massive drum, impressive cello or harp, or even traditional piano.

Luckily, there are ample choices for willing older adults. And, since a key part of living well is making personal choices, the choice of instrument can range from a pocket harmonica to an expensive organ.

Music Man shenanigans are not required to encourage formation of a local musical group. Portable electronic keyboards might be a perfect choice for those who have always wanted to dust off the ivories. A slender flute or oboe could be a good choice for those who are also looking for a way to encourage dexterity in the hands and fingers.

Easy Listening and Living Well in the Queen City

Here in Cincinnati, there are abundant opportunities to hear music. We are lucky to have access to performances both by professional musicians and street bands, in fabulous concert halls and local parks. In fact, many of our residents are lifelong supporters of the Orchestra, Opera, and Ballet!

And seniors who live at Deupree House—or our sister community Marjorie P. Lee—are treated to all manner of private performances by local and national musicians all year long!

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Bryan Reynolds
October 11, 2014
Bryan Reynolds is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Bryan is responsible for developing and implementing ERS' digital marketing strategy, and overseeing the website, social media outlets, audio and video content and online advertising. After originally attending The Ohio State University, he graduated from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a Bachelor of fine arts focused on electronic media. Bryan loves to share his passion for technology by assisting older adults with their computer and mobile devices. He has taught several classes within ERS communities as well as at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute run by the University of Cincinnati. He also participates on the Technology Team at ERS to help provide direction. Bryan and his wife Krista currently reside in Lebanon, Ohio with their 5 children.

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