Research over the last few decades shows the impact of music on the aging process. Listening to or creating music can have positive health effects on multiple levels including, but not limited to, having a positive outlook on life, providing brain stimulation, and more (Hays & Minchiello, 2005). Studies have also found that music plays a role in ethnic identity, by allowing individuals to better connect to their cultural roots and giving a sense of belonging (Lidskog, 2017). This concept is well-known in Our Community, where music brings back fond memories and helps us connect both to Japanese culture and with others.
Benefits of Creating Music with Others
Through Keiro’s Grants Program, Keiro has funded and supported the efforts of many community groups that provide a space for older adults to connect with each other through music.
Whether it be learning how to use a ukulele or being part of a choral group, these groups and gatherings offer a safe place for social connection and engagement, reducing social isolation and ultimately enhancing the quality of life of their members.
One member from Sakura Chorus commented that even during pandemic, online Zoom practices contributed to keeping their members connected and reducing social isolation, and was a motivator to continue. For the first time in three years, the group did their anniversary concert at the end of 2022.
Fumiko Uno, president of Sakura Chorus, after performing shared, “While the members performing are aging, the best part was that they each put in their best effort together to sing and share the joy collectively. It was because of everyone’s efforts put together that brought the concert a success. I see many of them feeling motivated to continue on again.”
One study on Australian older adults aged 65+ reported that creating music allowed for a stronger sense of connection with each other and helped develop friendship. Playing instruments also provided them with more brain stimulation and overall positive outlook in life (Hays & Minichiello, 2005).
Another study found that those who participated in choral groups had better morale, less loneliness, and increased activity rate. The participants also reported fewer falls and doctors’ visits, and less medication use than those who did not (Cohen et al., 2006).
Benefits of Listening to Music
A 2018 study showed that even listening to music can help reduce apathy, one of the first symptoms of dementia connected with cognitive decline. In this study, nursing home residents were exposed to sensory stimulation with music, sang nostalgic songs, and played musical instruments for 12 weeks, which resulted in a significant decline in apathy. The same study indicated that even for those with dementia, the part of the brain that is associated with music is well preserved. Therefore, music can be a useful tool to connect with those affected by memory loss (Tang et al., 2018).
Keiro has continued its support of special musical performances to our former facility residents, especially those affected by cognitive decline. Over the past seven years since the sale of our former facilities, Keiro provided over 250 opportunities for older adults in the community to remain in touch with their cultural roots.
The benefit of music goes beyond the listeners. One performer, Miko Shudo, who is also a music therapist, shared how music can have a positive impact on older adults with their mood and coping abilities. While it’s an emotionally demanding work, she finds it rewarding. Aside from her work, she finds a special joy in performing for the residents regularly:
I know that music touches almost everyone in various, special ways. One song can bring many people together and stir up unique memories for each individual in the audience. Music can bring out smiles, tears, dance moves and singing voices! These are all the things that make me so happy to see when performing for the residents.
When I perform, I feel that I’m singing for my ancestors who’ve passed before me: my mom, my grandparents, and their parents… Even though I have yet to meet everyone there, I feel a deep sense of gratitude and connection with the residents.
For both performers and recipients, the power of music and its positive health impact go a long way, especially in Our Community.
Cohen, G. D., Perlstein, S., Chapline, J., Kelly, J., Firth, K. M., & Simmens, S. (2006). The impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on the physical health, mental health, and social functioning of older adults. The Gerontologist, 46(6), 726–734. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/46.6.726
Hays, T., & Minichiello, V. (2005). The contribution of music to quality of life in older people: An Australian qualitative study. Ageing and Society, 25(2), 261–278. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0144686x04002946
Lidskog, R. (2017). The role of music in ethnic identity formation in diaspora: a research review. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/issj.12091
Tang, Q., Zhou, Y., Yang, S., Thomas, W. K., Smith, G. D., Yang, Z., Yuan, L., & Chung, J. W.-yee. (2018). Effect of music intervention on apathy in nursing home residents with dementia. Geriatric Nursing, 39(4), 471–476. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gerinurse.2018.02.003