Ageing with attitude: Tune in to music for an emotional and psychological boost

A study from NUI Galway has found that older people are more likely to get an emotional and psychological boost from listening to music than younger adults, says Margaret Jennings.

Ageing with attitude: Tune in to music for an emotional and psychological boost

LISTENING to music gives older Irish people a psychological boost and supports their ability to regulate their emotions, contributing towards wellbeing as they age.

Two thirds of those aged 60-85, who participated in research at NUI Galway, chose classical music pieces for dealing with stressful situations, but opted for popular or upbeat tracks to feel less socially isolated, or for connection with people from whom they had become separated through bereavement or migration.

Older people, in general, showed much higher regulation of their emotions through music than the younger participants in the study, aged 18 to 30, according to researcher Jenny Groarke, a musician and PhD student at the NUIG School of Psychology.

“Older people also chose music that was of personal significance — for example music that they listened to when they were a particular age, or with somebody special, or in a memorable place,” says Groarke.

“One 72-year-old woman for instance who chose the song Here Comes The Sun, in the lab, told me it brought her back to listening to it on top of Machu Picchu.”

Some of the research involved volunteers spending two to three hours in the lab carrying out a variety of verbal and numerical tasks while listening to music and having their brain waves measured by electroencephalography (EEG).

The research is ongoing, and people over 60 are still being invited to participate in a questionnaire.

“We are trying to get a snapshot of how younger and older people are using music in their lives now and any related psychological effects.

"This is one of very few studies to address this question and the first to include older people’s contributions,” says Groarke.

“Wellbeing is considered by many to be a good balance between positive and negative feelings.

"In older adulthood — when the negative effect of physical illness on wellbeing is accounted for — older people have significantly higher psychological wellbeing than adolescents and young people,” she says.

“We are beginning to understand that wellbeing is a skill, a key component being our ability to regulate our emotional experiences, to minimise negative feelings and maximise positive ones.

"As psychologists we have long seen emotion regulation as a skill and have known it is one that develops with age. Older people are much more effective at regulating their emotions. They also experience less negative emotions and fewer mood swings.”

Emotion regulation is considered to be the most important function of music listening, she adds, but in her research she found that older adults focussed more on using it to induce positive feelings, rather than regulate negative emotions.

The inspiration for how music affects us at different stages of our lives came from the researcher’s own personal experience.

“I grew up in a very musical family and I was particularly close to my grandfather Jimmie Dooley, a drummer and choral singer.

"My fondest memories are around musical experiences with granddad. I think he found a source of true pleasure and it seemed to me to be connected to his successful ageing.

“We shared this love of music but my relationship to music was very different. It was this difference in how my grandad and I used music that stimulated my research, but also gave it a focus of how we relate to music as an expression of how we relate to ourselves at different life stages.”

While the research shows that older people do use music adaptively to support their wellbeing, the key — as in all positive ageing –— is that it is a pleasurable experience.

“Music — and all other known stimuli have emotional, social and cognitive consequences, especially in relation to successful ageing. I believe music is particularly beneficial because if affects our emotions, thoughts and our physical body, but the key is that it is enjoyed,” she says.

“The point is we engage in pleasurable activities.”

Jenny Groarke’s research is being supervised by Dr Michael Hogan in the School of Psychology, NUI, Galway and is funded by the Irish Research Council.

If you are over 60 and are interested in completing a questionnaire about your music listening and general wellbeing you can do so online at or can contact Jenny for a paper version at 085-272 22 22 or by email at

Taking medicine

Are you among the one-third of over-65s in Ireland who regularly takes five or more medicines?

Research shows only 15% of people who have three medical conditions, say they take their medicine without fail — and those taking take medicine for more than one condition, are more likely not to take it properly.

The Irish Pharmacy Union urges you to ask your pharmacists for help. IPU president Kathy Maher advises: Check the label, read the leaflet, follow the instructions. Ask your pharmacist if you have any questions and what to do if you miss a dose.

If swallowing tablets is difficult, ask if there is a liquid form of the medicine or if you could crush your tablets. Do not break, crush or chew tablets without asking first.

Memory boost

Using a computer once a week may keep age-related memory decline at bay, new research suggests.

The US study carried out over four years at the Mayo Clinic on almost 2,000 people, aged 70 plus, found those who used a computer had a 42% lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment which is a precursor to dementia.

Reading magazines was associated with a 30% drop in the risk of memory and thinking issues; participating in social activities with a 23% drop; doing a craft such as knitting with a 16% drop, while game-playing reduced the risk by 14%.

The study authors say the research wasn’t designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship and can only show an association between computer use and better memory and thinking with age.

Ageing quote

I don’t want to retire. I’m not that good at crossword puzzles

— Norman Mailer

Silver surfer

Why you should start your day with lemon in water

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