Listening to music may bring health benefits to older adults, study shows

Whether it’s playing an instrument, singing in a choir or just tapping your fingers to a song on the radio, a new poll shows engagement with music may provide health benefits to older adults.

Three-quarters of people ages 50 to 80 said music helps them relieve stress or relax, and 65% said it helps their mental health or mood, according to results from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging.

The poll found nearly all older adults (98%) said they benefit in at least one health-related way.

Two in five adults aged 50-80 (41%) said music is very important to them. Black and Hispanic older adults are more likely to consider music to be very important.

“Music has the power to bring joy and meaning to life,” said Dr. Joel Howell, at the University of Michigan Medical School, who worked with the poll team. “It is woven into the very fabric of existence for all of humankind.”

The benefits aren’t just emotional, they’re also health-related. “We know that music is associated with positive effects on measures from blood pressure to depression,” said Howell.

Some older adults make music with others: 8% said they sing in a choir or organized group at least a few times a year, and 8% play an instrument with others, at least occasionally.

The poll showed 80% of those who responded said they watched musical performances on television or online at least a few times in the last year, and 41% reported they attended live musical performances in person at least a few times, with the latter percentage higher among those with higher incomes and more education.

Those who said their physical health is fair or poor, and those who say they often feel isolated were less likely to listen to music every day, according to the poll.

“While music doesn’t come up often in older adults’ visits with their usual care providers, perhaps it should,” said poll director Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren. “The power of music to connect us, improve mood and energy, or even ease pain means it could be a powerful tool.”

The poll of 2,657 adults aged 50 to 80 was conducted online and by phone in July and August 2023. The margin of error is 1 to 5 percentage points.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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