Artful Aging:

the health benefits of singing

Imagine you lived alone, did not know any of your neighbors, had no friends or relatives nearby to visit, and that the only time you left your house was to buy groceries or maybe to visit the library.  Perhaps you would fill your days with TV or reading, but I’d be willing to bet after a few months, loneliness would melt into depression. There are a ton of studies linking health outcomes to one’s quality of life, which includes a senior’s level of isolation and/or social support network. Especially concerning is that isolation, and resulting depression, are becoming increasingly common among seniors.

But good news! There are a handful of creative and innovative approaches to combating isolation among seniors, like the UCSF Community of Voices/Comunidad de Voces HERE. Based on a 5 year study to determine whether choir (as a creative endeavor and group activity) can promote overall health among seniors, the lead researcher, Dr. Julene Johnson, is building on an initial study she conducted in Finland in which seniors in choirs scored higher on quality of life surveys than non-singers.

While the intention is to demonstrate that arts programs in general improve the health outcomes for seniors, Johnson chose choir because of how accessible it is; it doesn’t require musical training, it’s easy to join, and singing is a big part of many cultures. Watch their video HERE!

seniorchoirs2

Photo courtesy of UCSF

And according to the SF Gate HERE, this isn’t the first study of choir and health outcomes – in 2006, gerontologist Gene Cohen determined that seniors who participated in community arts programs “reported higher overall ratings of physical health, fewer doctor visits and falls; plus less medication use and loneliness than a comparison group.” (See HERE)

AMAZING! I love that in this video they’re singing Spanish songs and when I first heard about this, my immediate thought was, what a great fit for the aging gays! Because, honestly, out of my pool of gays I would say at least half of them sing – either choir in their youth, karaoke at the drop of a hat or as a hobby.

And since we’re talking about singing seniors, I couldn’t resist throwing a shout-out to the most famous senior singing group, Young at Heart HERE. Enjoy.

Thinking more about results. Knowing that the study is close to wrapping (word is the last year will be spent analyzing data), I was mulling over her comment about accessibility and how some cultures have a tradition of singing. Knowing that seniors are an incredibly diverse demographic, it will be really interesting to see what the gender, sexuality, age, and ethnicity breakdown of the participants will be. While that data may primarily reflect the senior center and neighborhood collected to a large degree, my hope is that it will have included a considerable number of LGBT and people of color, two specific populations with some of the lowest health outcomes.

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