It’s not exactly new information to learn that music has healing properties, especially when it comes to stress and anxiety, but a recent article has suggested that religious hymns in particular have an extraordinary calming effect over elderly Christian patients in regards to fears and anxieties of future health problems and death. The article came from an online source called The Gerontologist, which claimed that listening to this kind of gospel inspired music helped to give seniors a sense of understanding and control that they hadn’t felt previously where their futures were concerned. It caused a large decrease in fears associated with death, which can be a rather daunting concept to consider as you get older. The article that was featured through this site was written by a number of scholars including Matt Bradshaw, Christopher G. Ellison, Qijan Fang, and Collin Mueller of four different universities across the United States and was called “Listening to Religious Music and Mental Health Later in Life.”
The information gathered revolved around preexisting Christians, previously practicing Christians and those who had never been and were not religious, and found no difference in reaction between ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status, which leads scientists and medical professionals to believe that this is a universal method of treating these very specific anxieties. Religion has long been associated with comfort and peace for those who believe, especially when it comes to death and the possible afterlife, and it has even been linked with positive mental health in North American seniors who follow the Christian faith. It is possible that the same effect of psychological wellbeing in older patients could be found through investigating the religious music of other faiths, as many religions hold positive messages about the afterlife for those who believe, which can be a stress reliever in its own right.
The Healing Properties of Music
As mentioned above, the healing properties of music have been discussed for centuries depending on which country you’re in, and it’s plain to see in modern cultures as well. Think about day spas where people go to relax, the music that you listen to at the gym, and the kind of songs that are sung to babies by mothers when bedtime comes. Music, whether religious or not tends to have an emotional effect on listeners. Dana Dovey of Medical Daily writes: “Music has long been acknowledged for its healing qualities. Past studies have shown that individuals with moderate to severe dementia saw a significant boost in their cognitive abilities after singing their favorite songs.”
Because music is so universal, it’s not hard to see why somebody suffering from a mentally debilitating disease like dementia or Alzheimer’s would still be able to recall words and notes to a favorite song. This is exactly the kind of stimulation that the brain needs to stay sharp and prevent further disruption by the disease, which is why so many studies are currently being made concerning music classes for elderly patients.
This particular study being discussed by the authors mentioned above covered date collected through a survey in the United States for those ages sixty-five and over. The survey was taken in two waves over the years 2001 and 2004, and was directed at people residing in their own homes that were either black or white in ethnicity, and had only English speaking participants. There were a total of 1,024 participants through a combination of both surveys. Questions asked revolved around the amount of music listened to with answers ranging from never to several times daily, and allowed those answering to include both gospel hymns and religious songs in general among the type of music being listened to. Participants were also directed to answer specific questions concerning anxiety and stress felt about death, how satisfied they were with their lives so far, and how they felt about themselves in regards to self-esteem. The Telegraph, a news correspondent in Great Britain announced: “The data for the study come from more than 1,000 people who took part in the Religion, Ageing, and Health Survey of people aged 65 and over in the United States.”
Some of the questions concerned how difficult it was to face the fact that death was inescapable, whether or not these were the best years of the participant’s life, how positive an attitude they had toward themselves, and whether or not they felt that they had control and influence over what was going on in their life around them.
Similar Medical Findings
Of course, this isn’t the first study that has included medical findings and data regarding the beneficial elements of music to the listener, especially where aging seniors are concerned, but it is unique in that it studies not only the effects of the music, but of religion and religious music as well. Other reports that focus on music and older listeners concern mental clarity brought on by listening or health benefits involving heart health. Takiko Takahashi, Ph.D. and Hiroko Matsushita, Ph.D. of Oxford Journals explain: “Even the elderly with moderate or severe dementia were able to participate in the group music therapy, and results suggest that enjoying singing and playing musical instruments in a concert was effective in preventing cardiac and cerebral diseases.”
That fact that something which has been proven to have calming capabilities could lessen cardiac disease possibilities makes sense as many issues relating to heart failure can evolve from high stress or anxiety levels.
This study by no means advises that music is a cure or medical treatment for anxiety or depression, or that it can lengthen the span of your life. It does, however, point out the seemingly endless advantages that it can play in your life, specifically if you are getting older and worrying more about mortality or prevention of diseases that could be brought on by stress and anxiety. Whether you’re Christian or not, finding songs that help you relax and find a positive place inside of yourself can be helpful throughout many aspects of life.