Singing Can Improve Brain Function, Science Claims

Research led by the University of Helsinki has identified benefits of singing for a broad spectrum of the population. It seems that these rewards are especially significant for people who have problems with expressing themselves.
Singing Can Improve Brain Function, Science Claims

Last update: 16 August, 2022

It’s been known for several years that singing improves brain function. Not only does it strengthen the respiratory system, but it’s also been found to play an important role in preventing serious conditions, such as dementia. Furthermore, it helps release endorphins. These are hormones that make us less sensitive to stimuli that usually generate moods with a negative valence, such as feeling hopeless.

A study conducted by the University of Helsinki has found that singing improves brain function in people with speech conditions such as aphasia. In addition, it found that it helps moderate certain losses associated with aging.

Consequently, today, we have evidence that singing has consequences that we’d never have previously imagined. Indeed, the results are really promising. Furthermore, research is currently underway to learn more about a possible relationship between singing and Alzheimer’s disease.

When you sing, you open yourself to the emotions that run through you, and at the same time you stay connected to the notes you want to reach to form a melody.”

-Mathias Malzieu-

Senior woman singing
Singing in people suffering from aphasia helps improve brain function.

Aphasia and singing

The study we mentioned earlier was led by Dr. Teppo Särkämö. He’s the director of the PREMUS project, a long-standing investigation focusing on aphasia.

Aphasia can be caused by a stroke or a brain tumor. Sufferers experience difficulty in communicating, both orally and in writing. The illness can also affect their ability to understand both spoken and written language.

In this study, the researchers tested 25 aphasia sufferers and their caregivers. Choirs were formed with these volunteers. By employing a technique known as ‘melodic intonation therapy’, they found that patients were able to express themselves better. In fact, by singing what they wanted to say instead of saying it they found it easier to express themselves.

Singing improves brain function

The researchers conducted various fMRI tests on the aphasia- sufferers. They were of varying ages. The objective was to establish whether singing improves brain function at different stages of life.

The researchers established that brain networks associated with singing undergo less change over time than networks associated with speech. In other words, the ability to speak is more affected by age than the ability to sing.

The director of the research pointed out that “when you sing, the frontal and parietal systems of the brain are activated, responsible for regulating behavior, and more motor and cognitive resources associated with verbal control and executive functions are used”. He also claimed that older people who sing have better neurocognitive function than those who don’t.

enlightened brain
According to science, singing also helps restore some of the brain functions that have previously been lost.

Promising results

The research by Teppo Särkämö and his team found that choir members performed better on neuropsychological tests. In addition, they presented fewer cognitive difficulties and showed better indicators of social integration. In short, singing improved the functioning of their brains and gave them a better quality of life.

It appears that participating in a choir brings complex skills into play but, at the same time, requires less effort than speaking. In fact, singing is believed to improve brain function even in people with Alzheimer’s. Therefore, researchers are now going to start investigating the effect of singing on these types of patients.

People with Alzheimer’s have a harder time, as they remember old songs, but have great trouble learning new lyrics and melodies. Nevertheless, the researchers believe that by stimulating some of the brain networks that remain active in them, a breakthrough could be made.

It’s possible that the same thing could happen as did with the aphasia sufferers. In these patients, not only did singing improve their brain function, but it also helped them recover it. Although these results aren’t yet significant, a promising new path has been opened up.

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  • Pentikäinen E, Pitkäniemi A, Siponkoski S-T, Jansson M, Louhivuori J, Johnson JK, et al. (2021) Beneficial effects of choir singing on cognition and well-being of older adults: Evidence from a cross-sectional study. PLoS ONE 16(2): e0245666. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245666.