It is often said that music has healing powers. Some people pour their hearts out in song to achieve some relief from strong emotions, while other people love to sing for fun and use it as a way to express joy.
However, in recent years, scientific studies have shown that music can have demonstrable benefits on physical and mental health.
Most of the studies have focused on people who play instruments, which can be expensive and come with a learning curve for beginners. However, recent studies conducted in Finland have turned the focus towards the benefits of singing and the results are more promising than you might expect.
A series of studies conducted by researchers from the University of Helsinki examined the effects of choir singing on the cognition and wellbeing of older adults over the course of two years. It’s no secret that verbal and auditory cognition can decline as people age, so the study aimed to determine if singing had the same protective effects on cognition as playing an instrument.
A test group of 107 older choir singers was demographically matched with a control group of 62 non-singers. The two groups were then assessed using neuropsychological tests, questionnaires, and auditory electroencephalography (EEG) measurements.
The EEG study demonstrated that the choir signers had better auditory cognition than the control group, which makes sense considering the demands of singing in a choir alongside other people.
The neuropsychological study revealed that choir singers had better verbal cognition and flexibility compared to their non-singer counterparts. They also had an overall better quality of life.
After two years, both groups were examined again and the choir singers were still found to have had better verbal flexibility than the control group, suggesting that choir singing in older age has lasting benefits on verbal cognition in the brain.
While more research is still needed to determine the exact extent of the benefits, the choir singers are clearly doing something right. The most promising part about the findings is that anyone can do it! Not everyone has the luxury of being able to own and play an instrument, but almost everyone has a voice that can sing to some degree.
There are many community choir groups for older people that accept people of all levels of singing ability including novices. Aside from the benefits on the brain, being a part of group activities in older age also has well demonstrated benefits on quality of life and mental health.