The benefits of singing

Singing in general

You only have to google the benefits of singing on health and you can see why singing  called the drug free medicine. Most people like a good sing song even if they don’t think they can sing. But the impact of singing goes much further. As an ex scientist who spent many years understanding the  cellular effects of drug compounds,  the whole impact of music on the brain, well being and health is  fascinating to me. The fact that singing together can have such a major effect and its something we can all do is very powerful.

In summary,  singing has many positive outcomes:

  • A sense of happiness, well being, joy and reduced stress
  • More energy
  • Physical relaxation
  • More self esteem and confidence
  • Better concentration, memory, learning and attention
  • Physical consequences like improved muscle mobility in the throat, face, chest, larynx, lung capacity, posture, fine and gross motor control, stability when walking.
  • Lower aggression, depression, agitation, stress hormone levels, increased melatonin production aiding sleep regulation
  • More sense of belonging and bonding

There is a wealth of supporting studies for the benefits of singing. Here are a few:
“Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting. Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being. Psychological benefits are also evident when people sing together as well as alone because of the increased sense of community, belonging and shared endeavour.”

Singing has also been shown to be good for your heart because not only is it an aerobic activity having a physical effect on major muscle groups, but also because it lowers stress levels and improves well being.

Much  inspiring work has been  done by Singing medicine and the therapeutic effect of singing with children in hospitals

Singing also helps address the loneliness  and reduced social contact adults may experience as they get older ( Hallam et al 2011, Music for Life project). The work done by Sing for your life and Goldies are good examples of groups addressing this and how singing groups encourage the elderly to get out and have a wonderful social time together reminiscing via music. and


Singing for those with Dementia

There are around 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia and by 2020 we anticipate the number will reach a million. Dementia encompasses a range of diseases the most common being Alzheimer’s disease. The impact of dementia on the brain varies depending on the type of dementia but symptoms include memory loss, depression, difficulties with thinking, learning, communication, sleeping and increased agitation. There is no cure at present but there are a number of drugs that can help manage and control the symptoms eg sedatives and antidepressants. Music can be seen as a drug free, cheaper alternative.

Group singing is known to help support those with dementia.  To improve a senses of wellbeing, communication,  social skills, physical mobility and cognition.

More recently studies showed dementia sufferers had increased appetite and nutritional wellbeing after taking part in structure singing sessions.

We see those whose ability to talk or even know their own name has disappeared are still able to remember the words of songs or the way to play a complicated piece of music. The Sidney De Haan Research centre for Arts and Health has established several singing groups in Kent for mental health service users and Trish Vella-Burrows’ Singing and people with Dementia summary ( cites the improvements in wellbeing observed and the scientific basis. Even in late stages of dementia music is able to elicit a response when other stimuli fail ( Norberg, 1986)

It is thought that the reason musical ability  and responsiveness remains in those with dementia is because the part of the brain associated with emotions and autobiographical memories is stimulated during music sessions and whilst it is the first area to form in the foetus is the last part of the brain to be affected by the disease ( Janata et al 2007).   The hormone melatonin which impacts sleep regulation also increases and stress hormone decreases during musical stimulation of dementia sufferers ( Kumar et al 1999, Suzuki et al 2004).

The Singing for the Brain project was first established in 2003  and as part of the Alzheimer’s society now  has groups throughout the country like the one I volunteer at in Bracknell. These groups are designed around the principles of music therapy and singing and are a vital support for those with dementia and their carers. Vocal expression is very evident through singing and whilst some new music is introduced, the key is the fact that well known , familiar songs are used supporting  the sufferer’s preserved music memory for familiar melodies ( Cuddy and Duffin, 2005)

A study by Simmons-Stern, Budson and Ally (2010) showed patients with Alzheimer’s had better recognition accuracy for sung lyrics over spoken, again supporting the fact that the part of the brain dealing with music remained intact.

Dr. Oliver Sacks, Professor of Neurology & Psychiatry, Columbia University  says without exception, his dementia patients  respond to music. This is especially true of old songs and songs they once knew.”

The video footage of Henry, a dementia patient in a nursing home transformed by the power of music through ipods and the work of and the Alive inside project is now famous. .

Similarly the work of Playlistforlife aired on the Tonight programme on ITV (May 2014) showed the importance of creating personalised playlists for dementia patients