Music Has Charms to Soothe a Savage Breast—and to Improve the Brain

Music has a special place in our world; it adds a soundtrack to life that makes almost every moment more enjoyable. Music also has a powerful relationship with our brain. Professors of music and geriatric studies want to find some answers on why this relationship between our brain and music is so powerful, especially among older adults. Researchers from Northeastern University in Massachusetts looked at the changes in auditory and rewards systems in the brains of older adults after they listened to music. They may have found evidence that as older adults listen to their preferred music, connectivity in the brain increases.

Researchers invited 16 older adults (eight males, eight females), between the ages of 54 and 89 (average age was 66) to take part in this study. Participants were included if they were at least 50 years old, passed an MRI screening, and had no more than mild hearing loss. Upon official enrollment, participants named six musical pieces they enjoy listening to, and then participants completed neuropsychological and behavior tests, an MRI (before and after the intervention), and a blood draw. A week later, participants were invited back to meet with a music therapist for creation of their personalized playlist, which was then used for an eight-week intervention, during which they were to listen to their playlist for an hour every day and journal about their response to the music. Researchers found that music that was preferred by the participants activated the auditory and reward areas of the brain, a channel that is detrimentally deteriorated during neurological disorders like dementia.

Researchers believe this study adds to the growing evidence that music therapy has a place in brain health, and that older adults need to be encouraged to include music in their everyday lives to keep that channel active and thus improve brain wellness. The key seems to be to allow individuals to select the music they most enjoy, so that their musical experience is especially stimulating.


Want to keep up with recent research that’s relevant to aging services? Use the form below to subscribe to our monthly InvestigAge email.



Quinci, M. A., Belden, A., Goutama, V., Gong, D., Hanser, S., Donovan, N. J., … & Loui, P. (2022). Longitudinal changes in auditory and reward systems following receptive music-based intervention in older adults. Scientific Reports12(1), 1-15.

Self-Fulfilling ProphecyHow Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years

Learn how older adults’ perceptions of aging—and their self-perceptions—can have serious effects on their health, behaviors, and even longevity.

Download FREE Copy

    Add insight to your inbox

    Join our email list to receive information about the latest research from Mather Institute. Just complete the form below to subscribe.

    Thank you!

    You are now subscribed to the email list.
    A confirmation has been sent to the email you provided.

    Continue to Website Share with a Friend