Want to reduce stress in older adults? Play some music

Researchers have found that the stress-busting qualities of music have the biggest impact on older adults

Music fans won’t be surprised to hear that listening to music is a happiness booster – but they’ll be glad to learn that their enjoyment is only going to get better over time.

The varying ways music impacts different age groups has been studied for the first time, with researchers at Queen’s University Belfast investigating its capacity for stress reduction over the course of a lifetime.

The School of Psychology-led led by the School of Psychology showed that the older an adult is, the more effective music is at improving mood and regulating emotions.

The test was carried out on 40 younger adults, aged between 18-30, and 40 older adults, aged between 60-81.

Research lead Dr Jenny Groarke said: “Music listening makes up a large part of many people’s everyday lives. University students spend up to four hours a day listening to music and 64 per cent of adults aged 65-75 report listening at least once a day.

“The prevalence of stress and anxiety today, particularly in young people is of growing concern. There is a need for easily accessible, cost-effective interventions for stress management. The results of this study support the idea that listening to music supports coping with stress across the lifespan.

“This study also offers important insights into the effects of music on older adults, who have rarely been included in previous research on music listening.”

Before taking part in the study, participants made playlists of music they would listen to in stressful situations. When they arrived at the lab, they were told they would have to deliver a speech to be filmed and assessed, to increase their stress levels. Half of the group listened to their own stress-busting playlist while the other listened to a radio documentary.

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Stress reduction was significantly greater in the group allowed to listen to music.

Dr Groarke said the results confirmed that listening to self-chosen music can support stress management for adults of all ages.

But she pointed out that its particular effect on older adults likely supports the theory that emotion regulation abilities develop over time and improve with age – meaning they can reduce negative feelings and prolong positive emotions more effectively.