Music and Quality of Life in Older Adults

By Coffman, Don D. | Psychomusicology, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Music and Quality of Life in Older Adults


Coffman, Don D., Psychomusicology


This article briefly reviews some basic issues of adult development and measures used in assessing quality of life as a background for reviewing music studies with healthy older adults. Research shows that music activities (both music listening and music making) can influence older adults' perceptions about the quality of their lives. Some research has examined the effects of music listening on biological markers of health and subjective perceptions of well-being. Other studies on the psychological and social benefits associated with music making activities have demonstrated that participants often place considerable value on these "nonmusical" benefits of music activity.

In 1900, approximately 4% of the United States population was over the age of 65. By 2010, as the baby boom generation begins to turn 65, this proportion is expected to exceed 13% (Hooyman & Kiyak, 1996). Not only are there proportionally more senior Americans, it is more commonplace to discuss the concept of adult development, rather than assume that all development plateaus after adolescence, or worse, is merely a narrative of decline. Old misconceptions that stereotyped the older adult as frail, uninterested in learning or relearning skills, prone to passive activities, and unable or unwilling to strive for excellence, have gradually given way to images of vigorous individuals interested in active lifestyles during their retirement years.

Accompanying this shift in attitudes has been an increased focus on improving the quality of life for older adults instead of merely trying to extend the quantity or length of life. Historically, music educators and researchers have concentrated on the teaching and learning of music in children. In an era when older adults are beginning to outnumber young people in the United States, it is important for music researchers, educators and therapists to examine ways that music can enhance the quality of life in senior adults. Several music educators have reported on healthy older adults enjoying a variety of music making experiences, including choral groups (Darrow, Johnson, & Ollenberger, 1994; Frego, 1995), wind bands (Coffman & Levy, 1997; Ernst &Emmons, 1992) and piano clubs (Conda, 1997). Music therapists also have reported the benefits of music therapy (Palmer, 1989; Senate Hearings, 1992).

Several concepts have been used interchangeably with the term quality of life, including life satisfaction, meaning of life, meaning in life, sense of purpose, successful aging, well-being (mental, emotional, social, spiritual), and wellness. Some of these terms are closely linked to indicators of social and economic indicators of success, while other terms connote mental and physical health concerns that go beyond the mere absence of disease and disability.

A useful list of 15 factors that contribute to quality of life was arranged by Flanagan (1982, p. 57) into five groups:

Physical and material well-being:

1. Material comforts-desirable home, food, conveniences, security

2. Health and personal comforts

Relations with other people:

3. Relationships with relatives

4. Having and rearing children

5. Close relationships with spouse or member of opposite sex

6. Close friends-sharing views, interests, activities

Social, community, and civic activities:

7. Helping and encouraging others

8. Participating in governmental and local affairs

Personal development and fulfilment:

9. Learning, attending school, improving understanding

10. Understanding yourself and knowing your assets and limitations

11. Work that is interesting, rewarding, worthwhile

12. Expressing yourself in a creative manner

Recreation:

13. Socializing with others

14. Reading, listening to music, or watching sports, other entertainment

15. Participation in active recreation (p. …

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