Research has shown that music can help stimulate cognitive functioning as well as memory in elderly people suffering from the effects of dementia. A study of senior citizens (aged 69 on average) revealed that those who listened to compositions by Mahler or Mozart performed better in a test of both episodic and semantic memory than when they were exposed to no music or to white noise.
Furthermore, pieces composed by Mozart, which most classified as “happy,” helped subjects process information faster than when they listened to other forms of music, or to no music at all. Music has also proven effective at stimulating long-term memory in seniors suffering from cognitive dysfunction, people who can’t remember the names of close relatives but whose eyes brighten and instantly come to life when they hear a popular song from their youth.
Seniors benefit from infusions of dopamine and the consequent feelings of elation and well-being produced by music. Stress and anxiety are lessened, as is blood pressure and cortisol levels, which stimulates the physiological effects of stress in the body. Music is also effective at helping seniors manage chronic pain and reduce feelings of depression. A 2013 study revealed that a group of individuals suffering from fibromyalgia pain who listened to music once a day for a period of four weeks reported their pain had been alleviated and feelings of depression reduced. Music has also proven effective at helping seniors mitigate pain in the aftermath of surgery.
A leading Johns Hopkins researcher has reported that seniors who play or listen to music can expect to maintain healthier cognitive function as they age than those who do not. Music has a mathematic and structural composition that engages your brain, forcing it to do lots of processing. Familiar rhythmic and tonal qualities invigorate memory, stirring up recollections of things that one associates with a particular piece of music. Experts recommend that elderly individuals try listening to new and different forms of music, rather than just the music they are familiar with, because new music challenges the brain to make sense of new music in new ways.