A Spring in Their Step, a Tune in Their Head: The Benefits of Dancing and Music for Older Adults


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Let’s face it: getting older can be hard. Aches and pains show up in surprising places, friends move away, and it seems like your loved one is able to do less and less. Yes, there’s not a lot about aging that rocks. Unless, of course, you help your loved one rock it!
This isn’t as crazy as it might sound. Many older adults are not taking the aging process lying down—some are even going as far as participating in rock bands.[1. “Rockin’ out — not rocking chairs — keeps senior singers young,” December 28, 2015, https://www.sfgate.com/music/article/Rockin-out-not-rocking-chairs-keeps-6723918.php] Staying active in dancing and music can increase physical fitness, emotional well-being, energy levels, cognition and more for older adults.

Fitness

Dancing is an especially productive way to enhance physical fitness. It can increase the efficiency of the cardiovascular system, improve muscle strength and flexibility, and even help shed unwanted pounds. Your loved one may also find themselves with more energy by increasing their activity level on a regular basis. Once they do, they may even see an improvement in things like insomnia and sleep quality. All that movement during the day is the perfect recipe for a great night’s sleep! And mobility constraints don’t have to keep your loved one off the dance floor—many programs offer seated dance to keep everyone groovin’ safely.

Socialization

Although it’s fine (and easy) for older adults to enjoy music and dance in their own homes, going out to experience it presents a wonderful opportunity to boost their socialization. Joining a singing group or dance class at a senior center or adult day program may be as simple as calling your local home care agency. Meeting new people and spending time with them is a great way to decrease isolation, as well as give your loved one something to look forward to. And the concerts presented by these groups offer another opportunity for your loved one to enjoy music and socialization, even if just as a spectator.

Cognition

Learning new things, like songs and dance moves, requires a lot of brain power. What’s more, it utilizes areas of the brain that don’t necessarily see frequent activity. Moving your body in a particular pattern unfamiliar to you is a surprisingly complex skill. And when it comes to singing, things like lyrics, tone, range, and harmonizing with those around you can be a true workout for your mind!

Memory

What many people don’t know about music and dance is that they can help strengthen or bring back memories. And not just memories of happy times, but those related to how to do things. This is because of something called “muscle memory.” These memories are stored in your brain, but your muscles use them as their go-to connection when performing tasks. This is why patients with memory problems can still enjoy the benefits of music and dancing, and may even retain knowledge of specific moves. Depending on what part of their brain has been affected by dementia or a similar condition, you’d be surprised at all the songs and steps they recall!

Emotional well-being

Perhaps the most special benefit of music and dancing is one that can’t be measured: the way it can lighten an older adult’s spirit. The ability to express ourselves through song and movement has been enjoyed by people for thousands of years, and today’s older generations are no different. In fact, dancing has been shown to release neurochemicals that enhance positive emotions, and listening to favorite songs rewards your brain with a hit of dopamine.

See firsthand the benefits of dancing and music for older adults

When it comes to the benefits of dancing and music for older adults, as they say, the proof is in the pudding! Just as a ninety-five-year-old man with dementia can enjoy starting a band at his nursing home,[2. “95-Year-Old Man With Dementia Gets His Wish to Jam Again,” January 6, 2016, https://magazine.good.is/articles/old-timer-still-swings] your older adult can similarly reap the benefits. Find a musical outlet they enjoy, get started with them today, and soon you’ll be seeing the advantages of this therapy for yourself!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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