The Elderly


The Rapidly Increasing Elderly Population

The elderly population has been steadily increasing over the past few decades. This implies the need to establish methods and programs that can help contribute to the quality of life of the elderly (Sole, 2010).

Active Aging and Successful Aging

Active aging is “the process of optimizing the opportunities for physical, cognitive, and social wellbeing throughout life with the objective of increasing a healthy life expectancy, productivity and quality of life in older age.” It is important to remain physically active. The elderly should be given opportunities to participate in activities culturally, spiritually, civically, socially, and economically (Sole, 2010).

In 1997, the idea of satisfactory or successful aging introduced by Rowe and Kahn. They stressed the importance of health and ability, maintaining high levels of cognitive functioning, developing specific set of interests and activities, and having commitments on a schedule that are maintained. Rowe and Kahn suggested that the participation in social activities would help with interpersonal relations, and the participation in productive activities would help encourage personal growth and educational advancement (Rowe & Kahn, 1997).

To learn more about active aging, click here:

Music Therapy and the Elderly

As music therapy expanded beyond the traditional scope of treatment of psychiatric disorders, a focus on music’s ability to alter affective states was looked at in regards to the elderly. Music promotes relaxation, decreases anxiety, and distracts from unpleasantness. Both passive and active music activities affect older adults’ perceptions of their own quality of life. In 2010, a study showed that the main reasons that motivate participation in music therapy are to broaden the social network of the patient and to assist the patient in acquiring new knowledge to help the brain remain active (Sole, 2010).

Music’s symbolic value is attributed to behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that have been conditioned by a person’s past physiological responses and life experiences. Because of this, music has great implications in health care for the elderly. This is especially true of religious music. Elderly patients in nursing homes can benefit from the power of religious music as an expression of moral beliefs. Similarly, those in hospice care may use music therapy as “a vehicle for expressing or reaffirming religious belief in preparation for death” (Gfeller, 2002).

Alzheimer’s Disease and Music Therapy Brain Studies

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that occurs when brain cells are killed prematurely, causing a lack of neurotransmitters in the brain. The disease causes memory loss and overall loss of most mental capabilities, (Takahashi, 2006).

To learn more about Alzheimer’s Disease, click here:

Alzheimer’s patients process music the same way in which a “normal” brain would. Patients with Alzheimer’s appear to process music in the same fashion those without a form of dementia do.Even after they’ve lost the ability to recognize faces and/or objects, many patients are recorded as being able to recite lyrics to songs and poetry, as well as remember songs from their childhood. A recent study looked at various activities provided for individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. The study found that music related activities were met with more participation from patients than any other activity (Cevasco, 2010).

Benefits of Music Therapy for Alzheimer’s Treatment


While music therapy cannot slow or stop the death of brain cells, it is thought to ease some emotion pain and confusing for the patient, and improve the overall quality of daily life. It can help reduce restlessness, promote sleep, and is thought to ease anxiety and improve one’s mood. Music therapists encourage social interaction between Alzheimer;s and dementia patients by pairing songs used in music therapy sessions with movement activities and discussions of reminiscinces (Cevasco, 2010).

(Cevasco, 2010).

Studies in the 1990s and 2000s

Studies of music therapy for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in the 1990s mostly focused on singing songs, finger exercise, playing musical instruments, and appreciating music. Experimenters used psychological indexes, like decreased aggressive behavior, decrease in depressive symptoms, and emotional stability (Cevasco, 2010).

Clark, Lipe, and Blibrey (1998) found that the use of preferred music while bathing and using rest room significantly decreased aggressive behavior of individuals with dementia. In their 1996 study of elderly dementia patients, Rangneskog, Brane, Karlsson, and Kiglgren found that an increase in food intake resulted from  listening to music of the 1920s and 1930s while eating dinner. It is notable that the increase in food intake was particularly large in the consumption of dessert. Other results of music therapy in elderly patients include an increase in blood melatonin levels (Kumar et. al., 1999), and improved cognitive function (Mihara, Mihara, Hozumi, & Kubo, 2000). Additionally, Natural killer (NK) cell count increased significantly after music therapy. NK cells are related to resistance to viral infection, rate of metastasis, and cancer onset. Participation in music therapy can serve as exercise for the patient, which leads to NK cell count increase (Kubota & Hasegawa, 1999).

Long-term effect study and factors being looked at today

Music therapy studies are now focused more on the long term effects of music therapy rather than short term, immediate effects. Recently, music therapy in which the elderly with moderate to severe dementia can enjoy themselves has been found to be effective in preventing cardiac and cerebral diseases (Cevasco, 2010). Playing a musical instrument and singing, which requires breathing out long and controlling exhalations, can be seen as forms of exercise, which diminishes stress. Music therapy has been found to bring systolic blood pressure closer to a normal value (homeostatic effect found). Behavior of eager participation led to improvement of cognitive function. Active reminiscence music therapy using the familiar-song singing method contributes to emotional stability, improvements in socialization. In addition, lower cortisol levels found in saliva of those participating in music therapy (Cevasco, 2010).


Cevasco, A. M. (2010). Effects of the Therapist’s Nonverbal Behavior on Participation and Affect of Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease During Group Music Therapy Sessions. Journal of Music Therapy, 47(3), 282-299.

Clark, M. E., Lipe, A. W., & Blibrey, M. (1998). Use of music to decrease aggressive behaviors in people with dementia. Journal of Gerontological Nursing, July, 10-17.

Gfeller, K. E. (2002). Music as a therapeutic agent: Historical and sociocultural perspectives. Music therapy in the treatmet of adults with mental disorders; theoretical bases and clinical interventions, 60-67.

Kubota, N., & Hasegawa, Y. (1999). Change in NK cell activity in the elderly through music therapy. The Journal of Japan Biomusic Association, 17(2), 183-187.

Kumar, A. M., Tims, F., Cruess, D. G., Minstzer, M. J., Ironson, G., Loewensten, et al. (1999). Music therapy increases serum melatonin levels in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Alternative Therapeutic Health Medicine, 5(6), 49-57.

Mihara, Y., Mihara, B., Hozumi, N., & Kubo, J. (2000). The effects of music therapy for vascular dementia. The Journal of Japan Biomusic Association, 18(2), 215-222.

Rangneskog, H., Brane, G., Karlsson, L., & Kihlgren, M. (1996). Influence of dinner music on food intake and symptoms common in dementia. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Science, 10(1), 11-17.

Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (1997). Successful aging. The Gerontologist, 37, 443-440.

Sole, C., Mercadal-Brontons, M., & Riera, M. (2010). Contributions of Music to Aging Adults’ Quality of Life. Journal of Music Therapy, 47(3), 264-281.

Takahashi, T. (2006). Long-Term Effects of Music Therapy on Elderly with Moderate/Severe Dementia. Journal of Music Therapy, 43(4), 317-333.

By: Claire Growney



Comments are closed.