Choir singing improves brain function, slows cognitive decline in older adults

HELSINKI, Finland — Here’s some research that’s sure to be music to the ears of folks who love to sing. Choir singing boosts brain function and creates a greater sense of togetherness, particularly in older people, according to a new study.

The findings suggest that joining a choir could help fight age-related cognitive decline and “chronic loneliness,” which affects around one in 10 older people. Singing could also be especially helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people are under increased emotional strain.

“People have been singing together on balconies and from open windows to lift their mood,” says doctoral student and study co-author Emmi Pentikäinen in a statement.

Fresh research from the University of Helsinki reveals those who had sung in a choir for more than 10 years felt greater social togetherness than those with less or no experience of choir singing. Meanwhile, singers who had been singing for less than ten years were happier with their overall health than those who did not sing in a choir.

“It’s possible that the people who have joined a choir later in life have thus found the motivation to maintain their health by adhering to an active and healthy lifestyle,” says Pentikäinen. “Then again, the relationships and social networks provided by being in a choir among those who have done it for longer may have become established as an integral part of their lives, therefore appearing as a greater feeling of social togetherness.”

The study includes data from 106 choir singers and 56 non-singers — all over 60 — who completed questionnaires and neuropsychological tests.

According to Pentikäinen, choir singing provides a good opportunity to support the wellbeing of the elderly. That’s especially the case as it requires flexible mental functioning and the regulation of attention — something which is partially important in an aging population.

”Choir singing is easy to do in practice, with little cost,” she adds. “It’s an activity that requires versatile information processing, as it combines the processing of diverse sensory stimuli, motor function related to voice production and control, linguistic output, learning and memorizing melodies and lyrics, as well as emotions roused by the pieces sung.”

The findings have been published in the journal PLOS One.

SWNS writer William Janes contributed to this report.

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