Health In Aging Blog


Does Listening to Calming Music at Bedtime Actually Help You Sleep?

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

A new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has found that listening to music can help older adults sleep better.

Researchers from the National Cheng Kung University Hospital in Taiwan combined the results of past studies to understand the effect that listening to music can have on the quality of older adults’ sleep. Their work suggests that:

  • Older adults (ages 60 and up) living at home sleep better when they listen to music for 30 minutes to one hour at bedtime.
  • Calm music improves older adults’ sleep quality better than rhythmic music does.
  • Older adults should listen to music for more than four weeks to see the most benefit from listening to music.

Why Older Adults Have Trouble Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

As we age, our sleep cycles change and make a good night’s sleep harder to achieve. What does it really mean to get a good night’s sleep? If you wake up rested and ready to start your day, you probably slept deeply the night before. But if you’re tired during the day, need coffee to keep you going, or wake up several times during the night, you may not be getting the deep sleep you need. [1] According to the National Institute on Aging, older adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.[2]

But studies have shown that 40 to 70 percent of older adults have sleep problems and over 40 percent have insomnia, meaning they wake up often during the night or too early in the morning.  Sleep problems can make you feel irritable and depressed, can cause memory problems, and can even lead to falls or accidents.

How the Researchers Studied the Effect of Music on Older Adults’ Quality of Sleep

For their study, the researchers searched for past studies that tested the effect of listening to music on older adults with sleep problems who live at home. They looked at five studies with 288 participants. Half of these people listened to music; the other half got the usual or no treatment for their sleep problems. People who were treated with music listened to either calming or rhythmic music for 30 minutes to one hour, over a period ranging from two days to three months.  (Calming music has slow tempo of 60 to 80 beats per minute and a smooth melody, while rhythmic music is faster and louder.) All participants answered questions about how well they thought they were sleeping. Each participant ended up with a score between 0 and 21 for the quality of their sleep.

 The researchers looked at the difference in average scores for:

  • people who listened to music compared to people who did not listen to music;
  • people who listened to calm music compared to people who listened to rhythmic music;
  • and people who listened to music for less than four weeks compared to people who listened to music for more than four weeks.

What the Researchers Learned

Listening to calming music at bedtime improved sleep quality in older adults, and calming music was much better at improving sleep quality than rhythmic music. The researchers said that calming music may improve sleep by slowing your heart rate and breathing, and lowering your blood pressure.[3] This, in turn helps lower your levels of stress and anxiety.

Researchers also learned that listening to music for longer than four weeks is better at improving sleep quality than listening to music for a shorter length of time.

 Limits of the Study

  • Researchers only looked at studies published in English and Chinese, meaning they may have missed studies in other languages on the effect of listening to music on sleep in older adults.
  • Results may not apply to older adults with Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease.
  • In the studies researchers used, people who listened to music received more attention from researchers than did people who got standard or no treatment for their sleep problems. This means that sleep improvements in the music therapy group could be due to that extra attention.
  • Since the different studies used different kinds of music, researchers could not single out which type of calming music improved sleep the most.
  • All of the people in the study had similar kinds of sleep problems. This means listening to music may not help people with other kinds of sleep problems.

What this Study Means for You

If you’re having trouble sleeping, listening to music can be a safe, effective, and easy way to help you fall and stay asleep. It may also reduce your need for medication to help you sleep.

This summary is from “Effect of music therapy on improving sleep quality in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Chia-Te Chen, NP, MS; Yen-Chin Chen, RN, PhD; Heng-Hsin Tung RN, FNP, PhD; Ching-Ju, Fang, MLIS; Jiun-Ling Wang, MD; Nai-Ying Ko RN, PhD; and Ying-Ju Chang, RN, PhD.

[1] https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-makes-good-night-sleep

[2] https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/good-nights-sleep

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3011183/

 

 

 

Physical Activity Reduces Your Risk for Falls

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Experiencing a fall is one of the most common accidents older adults face: Each year, one-third of people over the age of 65 will fall. Half of these falls cause injuries, including serious ones such as hip fractures and others that require hospitalization.

Researchers have shown that higher levels of physical activity can reduce your risk for a fall. Although you might think that being inactive, or sedentary, is safer for you than being active, it actually contributes to falling.

Common sedentary behaviors include sitting while watching television, using a computer, or riding in a car. To reduce sedentary time, you can use a standing desk, and try devices that remind you when it’s time to get up and move around a bit.

Older adults who are mostly sedentary are likely to suffer poor physical function and other signs of ill health, but we don’t have much research about how sedentary time contributes to your risk for falls. In theory, being sedentary could lead to weakness or loss of stability in your legs and hips, could harm the interaction of your nerves and muscles, or lessen your strength and balance — all of which can lead to falls. Continue reading

Hearing and Vision Loss May Speed Development of Cognitive Problems

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Cognitive decline ranges in severity from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD). It is marked by memory loss and difficulty thinking and making decisions. Cognitive decline is a significant, common challenge to older adults’ well-being and their ability to live independently.

Today, cognitive impairment and ADRD are major global public health and social concerns as the population of older adults rises around the world. By 2050, more than 152 million people will be affected by these conditions. That’s why many countries, including the United States, see the prevention of ADRD as a key public health priority and are studying programs to help stem these diseases.

One way to prevent cognitive impairment and ADRD is to treat the problems that raise the risk for developing them. Two of these risk factors are hearing and vision loss. Currently, about 60 percent of people aged 70 years or older are affected by hearing loss, 40 percent are affected by vision loss, and 23 percent of older adults have both vision and hearing loss. Some studies have suggested that having both hearing and vision loss may be linked to poorer cognitive function or to a faster rate of cognitive decline.

However, more specific studies are needed to obtain more accurate information about these two sensory problems and their relationship to cognitive decline, suggests a  research team that examined the associations between having loss of one sensory function — hearing or vision — and cognitive decline, as well as the associations between having both types of sensory loss and cognitive decline. They published their findings in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

For Older Adults, Preventing Flu is Key to Lessening Disability Risks

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

We tend to think of the flu as an illness that people recover from within a relatively short time. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case for older adults, who are more likely to experience difficulties getting around and living independently following a serious illness. Adding to the problem is the potential for additional health problems that can occur during a stay in the hospital. Hospitalized older adults potentially face delirium, an abrupt change in mental function which causes sudden confusion. They are also susceptible to hospital-acquired infections and can weaken if they lose their physical conditioning.

In fact, studies show that one-third of older adults will be discharged from the hospital with a new disability — and only 30 percent of them will regain their pre-admission ability levels for bathing, dressing, feeding themselves, and managing other activities of daily living, even one year after their discharge.

A decline in your ability to take care of yourself can mean a greater need for in-home support, admission to a long-term care facility, and even an increased risk of death.

That’s why a team of researchers designed a study to learn more about functional decline (the ability to take care of yourself) and serious disability in adults, aged 65 years and older, who are admitted to hospital for influenza and other acute respiratory illnesses. Their study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Continue reading

Critical Support: Nursing Homes Need Our Action NOW

Alice Bonner, PhD, RN, FAAN, Senior Advisor for Aging, Institute for Healthcare Improvement

Alice Bonner, PhD, RN, FAAN, Senior Advisor for Aging, Institute for Healthcare Improvement

This editorial is the work of four authors: two registered nurses with PhDs, one of whom is a former government/public health division director and one of whom leads a national foundation; a certified nursing assistant and director of a national CNA organization; and a nationally recognized health economist and nursing home expert. Their names and affiliations appear at the end of the article.

How We Got Here

For years, extended families formed the backbone of American communities. Children and young adults grew up living with parents and grandparents, or with the grandparents of friends and neighbors down the street. So why is it that we struggle with long-term care — how to create meaningful, purposeful living environments as we age? And why is it that skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs, historically called nursing homes) are always an afterthought, or completely invisible?

The greatest success story of the 20th century is human longevity; all of us love to tell the story of a relative or friend who has made it into their ninth or tenth decade. However, as a society we have not come to grips with how to care for older people. Antibiotics, pacemakers, renal dialysis, and artificial hearts are just a part of the story that has led to longevity — not to mention the extraordinary achievements of the public health system.

Why We Do This Work

Many of us have had a career focused on supporting or caring for older adults over decades. Why do we do this work? Because we believe we can create a comprehensive system of care, a continuum of health, housing, and social services that can better support ourselves — older people and our care partners —  in social engagement and the life of communities. Due to a variety of factors, some form of nursing home care will always be a part of that continuum.

Many not-for-profit associations, for-profit companies, and government agencies focus on creating environments for optimal aging.  The John A. Hartford Foundation, a foundation devoted to improving care for older adults, is dedicated to improving care of older adults in every place they reside.  Every day the team focuses on its mission and work with national and international organizations, government agencies, universities, and all components of the healthcare system, to try to create Age Friendly Health Systems. They are sorely lacking. Continue reading