“Will you please rise and sing…” is a phrase I remember hearing at sporting events and at church. Though standing and singing don’t need to happen together, they seem to be culturally tied. We rise to sing our national anthem. We rise to sing hymns at church.
When working in senior living communities, rising can be sitting upright in bed, sitting in a chair or wheelchair, or standing. The “rise” is relative to the person and the situation.
What IS important is we consider the benefits and contraindications of singing for seniors. When we promote singing proper vocal care needs to practiced.
Know there are resources to support caregivers and music professionals in singing with seniors.
So, grab a glass of your favorite beverage and let’s check out the details.
- Benefits of singing for seniors
- When is singing not a good idea?
- Vocal care with seniors
- Resources to support singing with seniors
- Rise and Sing
Think back on the many research articles and books you’ve read. Among the many reasons are the benefits people receive physically and emotional, the access to memories tied to music, and the support (or creation) of community. Let’s briefly look at these.
Physical and emotional benefits
- Singing is a form of exercise. Lung expansion and breath control are a part of singing. It is interesting to note research showing weekly music therapy sessions seem to improve these skills and possibly improve swallowing of those living with Parkinson’s. 
- Maybe for the same reasons, singing may treat snoring. Pilot studies show daily singing exercises may reduce the severity of snoring and improve symptoms of mild to moderate sleep apnea.
- Physical limitations aside, singing encourages improve posture/body alignment. Head up, shoulders down and back, neck aligned with spine are ideals.While many can sing without this ideal, the closer than can get the better it is for the body and the voice.
- Singing may strengthen the immune response. Singing appears to be more powerful than listening in this respect. 
- Consider singing as an opportunity to uplifting and enhancing. It boosts self-confidence. It general lifts moods.
Access to memories through singing
- Singing can boost healthy brain function. Research by Teppo Särkämö and others demonstrates the benefits of music to older adults living with dementia and following strokes.  It is plausible this applies to the rest of us.
- Some things are known. Music activates many parts of the brain. Emotions and physical process of engaging in music are likely a part of this. While the mechanism remains under investigation, music making appears to support access to memories.
Creating community through singing
Singing together creates group cohesion. Group singing helps develop and maintain skills of listening and adjusting to others. Bonds are made in and around the music making process.
When is singing not a good idea?
The number one time singing is not a good idea is a persons preference. Some folks just don’t like to sing. That is ok.
When someone is hoarse or dealing with a sore throat, singing can damage the voice.
Medical reasons for not singing include vocal cord nodules or polyps, sores on the vocal cords, and paralysis of the vocal mechanism.
Vocal care with seniors
Honestly, most people need to practice vocal care. We need to be aware medications and medical conditions can dry the mucous membranes. Tissues can thin as we age.
As we rise and sing vocal care should receive attention, in the following ways:
- Encourage proper hydration prior to and following singing. (This is a great time for those hydration offerings in senior living. Plus it might add a little time for socialization between these forming friendships.)
- Guide vocal warm-up of breathing. Add lip and tongue trills. Vocalizing a “woo” up then down a few times (like a siren), humming are a few standards.
- Be alert to vocal tiring, Straining the voice is not good.
- Allow time for vocal cool downs. Gliding hums/sighing is one example of a vocal cool down.
Music is a leisure activity for many. For this reason, including singing and other music opportunities is a wonderful idea. How we approach this depends upon our role and our training.
5 Resources for professional and family caregivers
While non-musicians may find the earlier information on singing overwhelming, know that music therapist, music educators, speech/language pathologist and others are there to support you.
1. Support volunteers and paid professionals in encouraging singing.
Some music entertainment is performed for the senior living community, Some entertainers include times for audience participation. There is calendar space for both in assisted living facilities and nursing homes.
Educate volunteer and professional musicians. Support them in learning about vocal care for themselves and your community members. Make sure they are aware of the role they play. Reinforce entertainment as different from therapy.
2. Purchase multiple copies of song collections for your group.
Remember, lyrics and music are often under copyright. Purchasing one copy from which to make others copies is not legal or advised. Looking for a possible collection in which to invest? “Rise Up and Sing“(*affiliate link) is one sing along source.
3. Purchase sing along CDs
While some folks sing with recordings, many recordings are not created for that purpose. The pitch may be too high or too low for older (and often younger) voices. And, lyrics are generally not available for the music. Liner notes are too small of print for many people to read them, And, as previously mentioned it is outside copyright to copy them.
It is wiser to buy CDs with lyric sheets that are pitched and paced for group singing. And example is the “4 Sing-Along Volumes”, “Hymn Sing” and “Christmas Sing” from Eldersong Publications.
4, Benefits of karaoke for seniors
Whether it is use of karaoke equipment or use of sing along DVDs, a karaoke format can support individuals and groups to sing when support is less available.
Purchase sing along DVDs to use. An example is Melodic Memories. They include large print words on the screen. Lyric sheets are also available for print. It is this writers option.
5. Books to guide you.
Resources for the music therapist
While your training, years of experience and personal collection of music are likely deep and board, there are times we all get stuck in a routine. We share the same songs over and over. Or, maybe we see a shift in the songs known by those we serve.
How do you address these?
- We keep networking with each other, The songs other music ideas shared within our social media communities is a renewing resource.
- We keep growing in our knowledge of our profession. Staying abreast of current research and new approaches happens through continuing education and attendance at professional conference (both within and outside the music therapy sphere).
- We explore resources that stimulate our thoughts when planning sessions and selecting songs. Session Cafe is pleased to serve you in this way.
Rise and Sing
Now that you’ve wet your whistle and explored this topic, I hope you’ll join me. Please rise and sing….
Iowa State University. “Music therapy helps people with Parkinson’s build strength through song.” ScienceDaily, 2 August 2017.
 M. Hilton, J. Savage, B. Hunter, S. McDonald, C. Repanos and R. Powell, “Singing Exercises Improve Sleepiness and Frequency of Snoring among Snorers—A Randomised Controlled Trial,” International Journal of Otolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, Vol. 2 No. 3, 2013, pp. 97-102. doi: 10.4236/ijohns.2013.23023.
 Effects of Choir Singing or Listening on Secretory Immunoglobulin A, Cortisol, and Emotional State.
[Article] Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 27(6):623-635, December 2004.
 Music for the ageing brain: Cognitive, emotional, social, and neural benefits of musical leisure activities in stroke and dementia – Teppo Särkämö, 2017 http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1471301217729237#articleShareContainer