Elizabeth Newman

It’s likely most of us listen to the radio on our commute to work, with a mix of announcers blathering, the latest pop music, or public radio if we have the mental energy to focus on what smart people are saying.

Recent research suggests that a better way to start the day, for you and your residents, could be to play some religious or spiritual music.

“But Elizabeth,” I can hear you saying. “I haven’t been to a church in years. I don’t consider myself religious.”

Good news for both you and your residents: According to researchers at four universities, it likely doesn’t matter. The research says listening to religious music helps seniors increase their life satisfaction and self-esteem, and it decreases anxiety around death. Findings also suggest religious music helps with a sense of control.

Responses were collected from among more than 1,000 adults over age 65 who were either practicing Christians, identified as Christian in their past or were unaffiliated with a specific faith. The positive effects crossed over class, race and gender lines. In case you are wondering if this has a similar impact for younger people, I’m going to go with yes, purely because I’ve spent the past week telling Pandora to play me a mix of Mavis Staples, the Blind Boys of Alabama and various versions of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” and I feel like a happier person because of it.

More seriously, what the research provides is a concrete way for a long-term provider to improve residents’ quality of life. Getting to church, or participating in acts like taking communion or being in a choir, may be difficult both for residents and providers. But with the advent of apps like Pandora and Spotify, it’s a piece of cake to create a customized gospel or religious station for a resident. Or if there’s no personal device or computer, a radio station with religious music can likely be played in the resident’s room. There’s also Dan Cohen’s impressive Music and Memory project, which has been shown to reduce agitation in dementia patients.

Whatever music it is, it could accompany a serving of sorbet for residents who have struggled to eat. In another recent study, residents who ate two ounces of lemon-lime sorbet a day for six weeks ended up eating significantly more food at dinner, according to results published in Geriatric Nursing.

The best guess is that sorbet, a thin liquid, makes the salivary glands wake up.

What I love about both these studies is they are low-hanging fruit for providers. It’s minimal investment with positive results. Even if it doesn’t work universally, there are no ill effects from kicking back with sorbet and music, whether you are 83 or 38.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight’s. Follow her @TigerELN.