Senior loneliness is an epidemic in society today. In fact, more than 40 percent of seniors regularly experience feelings of separation and disconnection from their family and communities — which can have a detrimental impact on both physical and emotional health. Now comes news, however, of a potential loneliness-busting fix: joining a community choir. Here’s a closer look at the research, along with evidence attesting to the many benefits of music therapy.
Decreased Loneliness, Increased Interest in Life
A collaboration of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), the Community Music Center (CMC), and the San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS), the Community of Voice research study set out to determine whether singing in a community choir promoted health and wellness among seniors. Its groundbreaking findings, which were published recently in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, indeed confirmed that singing in a choir not only reduced loneliness, but also increased interest in life. Specifically, the researchers determined that after just six months of singing in a choir, older adults “experienced significant improvements.”
Said CMC executive director Julie Rulyak Steinberg, “We hear from older adult choir members all the time how singing in the choirs lifts their spirits, but it’s wonderful to get this confirmation from a research study about the impact of singing in a choir for older adults.”
“The choir has made a big change in my life. The experience was wonderful with Community of Voices program, and I wanted to continue singing after the study ended. The choir has helped me with my breathing, with getting me out of the house and meeting new people — things that would not have happened without the choir,” echoed a participant.
Beyond the Community Choir
According to lead author Juline Johnson, Ph.D., the study was driven by the fact that today’s health and social systems aren’t prepared to support the needs of the aging population — especially where loneliness, social isolation, and depression are concerned. “There’s a need to develop novel approaches to help older adults stay engaged in the community and also stay connected.”
In addition to community choirs, there are many other cost-effective ways to engage seniors in the arts — and many reasons to do so.
Says art therapy expert and professor Dr. Raquel Stephenson of the power and potential of painting, “These visceral interactions with the materials opened up a new path for communication [with a non-verbal participant] Where Alzheimer’s Disease slammed shut the door of communication, art therapy opened up a new window.”
And while all seniors may not be able to join a choir or make art, depending on their limitations, even merely listening to music can make a profound difference, and has been determined to be a non-pharmacological intervention with many benefits, including everything from reducing cognitive decline to improving neuropsychiatric symptoms.
Watch a sample music therapy group sessions here:
Caregivers, too, report seeing changes in patients when music therapy is introduced. One told Alzheimer’s.net of her experiences with music therapy, “Patients with anxiety and depression are less agitated and appear calmer. The music transports them to a happier place in their minds.”
The takeaway for caregivers? Both in formal and informal contexts, music can have healing powers. So whether you encourage your loved one to join a choir or simply put on some calming music during mealtime, you can help a senior in your care enjoy a higher quality of life.
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