New report: music can improve brain health and wellbeing

Experts recommend individuals consider listening to or playing music to help stimulate brain activity, improve mood, and help manage health conditions affecting older adults.

The Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) concludes in a a new report that music can potentially stimulate brain health, manage stress, and help treat brain health conditions including dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease. Brain health experts suggest people of all ages should consider incorporating music in their lives to help improve quality of life and wellbeing.

Music can enhance mood and social connectedness, says the report, adding that it can reduce anxiety and depression, and may potentially reduce agitation for people living with dementia. Music can also be a tool for caregivers by helping ease the stress and burdens associated with caregiving, and help them engage in positive experiences with their loved ones.

On dementia, the report states: Intriguingly, research shows that memories of music are durable over years and can often remain intact, even in cases of dementia in advanced Alzheimer’s Disease when other memories are beyond reach. Because of this … music-based treatments are being used in therapy for dementia, where it has been shown to help reduce stress, promote morale and encourage interpersonal connections. 

Consensus statements from the GCBH report on music as treatment for diseases or injuries causing cognitive impairment:

1. The ability to dance, sing, and listen to music or play a musical instrument can be preserved in people with dementia, even during later stages of the diseases.
2. Music for persons living with dementia can improve mood and quality of life, and can reduce anxiety and depression. There is mixed evidence that music may also reduce agitation. Ongoing therapy with music the person likes is necessary to maintain the benefits.
3. Music provides a way for people with dementia to share positive experiences with others and can be a good way to connect with their caregivers.
4. There is strong evidence that a specialized music-based treatment can improve movement in patients with Parkinson’s disease and stroke, including improvements in walking and talking.
5. There is strong evidence that music helps recovery from stroke. Singing has been shown to help recover the loss of language functions in people due to stroke.

The report recommends ways people can engage with music, including:

  • Listen to both familiar and new music. Evidence suggests music you know and like causes the strongest brain response and dopamine release, while new music can stimulate the brain and provide a new source of pleasure.
  • Dance, sing, or move to music to not only provide physical exercise but potentially help relieve stress, build social connections, and stimulate your brain.
  • Make music yourself by singing or playing an instrument. Learning to play a musical instrument can offer a sense of mastery and self-esteem while stimulating thinking skills.
  • Caregivers for people living with dementia should try to use music the person likes as a way to help them reduce anxiety, depression and agitation and help connect them with loved ones.
  • Implement community music programmes that can have beneficial effects for many people, including individuals living with dementia and their caregivers.

Grace Meadows, Programme Director at Music for Dementia said: “This incredibly comprehensive and inclusive report expertly articulates the potential health benefits of music, particularly for our brain health and mental wellbeing.

“We are delighted to see the importance of music for people living with dementia recognised and welcome the call for more research into understanding better how music helps those with dementia.”