Trending With Impact: Can Singing Improve Aging?

In a two-year study, researchers compared the effects of choral singing with the effects of health education in an elderly cohort.

Couple singing

The Trending With Impact series highlights Aging (Aging-US) publications that attract higher visibility among readers around the world online, in the news, and on social media—beyond normal readership levels. Look for future science news about the latest trending publications here, and at Aging-US.com.

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There may be many paths that lead to the cessation of aging, or there may only be one—this mystery has yet to reveal itself. However, there is a wide array of evidenced methods capable of preserving youth by slowing down the aging process, and even mildly reversing it. Some known natural interventions are healthy diets, consistent exercise and avoiding aging-related risk factors, including carcinogens such as alcohol, cigarettes and excess sun exposure. Researchers have also studied less intuitive repetitive behaviors that appear to improve the cognitive decline associated with aging. For example, in a study published in 2015, researchers found that active singing led to cognitive improvements in participants with dementia. 

“People engaging in lifelong music-making have been found to have better cognitive outcomes later in life.”

In a research study published in 2020, 30 researchers—from National University of SingaporeSingapore Institute for Clinical SciencesNational University Health SystemUniversity of CambridgeUniversity of LondonSingapore Immunology NetworkMaurine Tsakok IncVoices of Singapore Choral SocietyPresbyterian Community ServicesNTUC Health Co-operative Limited, Beijing Chui Yang Liu Hospital, Fudan UniversityMassachusetts General HospitalHarvard Medical SchoolNanyang Technological UniversityImperial College London, and Genome Institute of Singapore—conducted the world’s first study designed to compare the impact of choral singing versus health education on cognitive function and aging in a randomized controlled trial (RCT). Their trending research paper was published by Aging (Aging-US) in 2020 and entitled, “Effects of choral singing versus health education on cognitive decline and aging: a randomized controlled trial”.

“In this RCT, we hypothesized that choral singing would improve cognitive health and/or reduce cognitive decline in elderly with high risk of dementia.”

The Study

This study, based out of Singapore, was designed for half of the subjects to participate in a choral singing program for one hour every week, over the course of two years. This program was conducted at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. In these sessions, professional musicians taught the fundamental concepts and mechanics of “good” singing, including breathing techniques, harmonies, memorization and listening skills. Participants also prepared to sing in public performances to promote motivation, purpose, pride and accomplishment.

“Each session incorporated the musical, social, and physical aspects of choral singing.”

Forty-seven participants were randomly assigned to the choral singing intervention (CSI) arm, and 46 were assigned to the health education program (HEP) arm. Parallel to the CSI participants, HEP participants completed a weekly one-hour health education session at the Training and Research Academy at Jurong Point for two years. Family physicians, specialist clinicians and community nurses facilitated these sessions, which included short talks on health-related topics, group activities, memory work, and physical activities (not including singing).

At baseline, the researchers collected demographic and clinical characteristics from each participant. Characteristics included: age, gender, education, marital status, living situation, status of hypertension, diabetes mellitus, heart diseases, average composite cognitive test score, Singapore Modified Mini-Mental State Examination (SM-MMSE) score, and Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS). Follow-up assessments were conducted at two additional times throughout the study—after year one and year two of the programs. Researchers assessed the effects of both these programs on brain imaging, immune system and oxidative damage markers.

“Our study is the first randomized trial in the world that systematically assessed the effects of singing on cognitive decline in aging and the potential effects on brain imaging, immune system and oxidative damage markers.”

Results and Conclusion

The researchers were forthcoming about limitations in this study. The cohort was small and they did not include a non-intervention control arm; researchers were only able to compare the effects of choral singing to the effects seen in the health education cohort. The team did, however, observe an increase in the mean composite cognitive test scores among participants in the singing group, and a decrease in the mean composite cognitive test scores among participants in the health education group. They did not observe differences in brain aging, oxidative damage or immunosenescence.

“Our findings from the very first RCT on this topic suggest that choral singing is a potentially useful intervention for the promotion of cognitive health in aging. Choral singing is a safe and enjoyable activity, and is likely to be embraced by the community. Policy makers may consider promoting choral singing for healthy and active aging of seniors in the community. This is especially relevant for countries where existing resources are available.”

Click here to read the full research paper published by Aging (Aging-US).

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Aging (Aging-US) is an open-access journal that publishes research papers monthly in all fields of aging research and other topics. These papers are available to read at no cost to readers on Aging-us.com. Open-access journals offer information that has the potential to benefit our societies from the inside out and may be shared with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and other researchers, far and wide.

For media inquiries, please contact media@impactjournals.com.

Risks for Dementia and Mortality: Sleep Disturbance and Deficiency

Researchers used nationally representative data to examine the relationship between sleep disturbance and deficiency and their risk for incident dementia and all-cause mortality among older adults.

Person sleeping in bed and alarm clock in the foreground
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Are serious health consequences looming for those with trouble sleeping? Based on a large sum of available research, the answer appears to be yes—poor sleep poses an increased risk of dementia and all-cause mortality. But what defines poor sleep? Conflicting results have been reported by researchers regarding the characteristics of sleep when examining incident dementia and all-cause mortality. For instance, one meta-analysis suggests that sleeping fewer than five hours (short sleep) and longer than nine hours (long sleep) per night is associated with greater risk of mortality. Another meta-analysis finds that only longer than nine hours is associated with greater risk of mortality.

“Research on sleep disturbance and deficiency and all-cause mortality therefore has shown conflicting results. Further, few studies have included a comprehensive set of sleep characteristics in a single examination of incident dementia and all-cause mortality.” 

From Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Boston College, based out of Massachusetts, United States, a team of researchers saw the need to address the gaps in this research and developed a new study. They organized a single examination of the relationships between a comprehensive set of sleep characteristics and incident dementia and all-cause mortality. This paper was entitled, “Examining sleep deficiency and disturbance and their risk for incident dementia and all-cause mortality in older adults across 5 years in the United States,” and published in Aging’s Volume 13, Issue 3 in February 2021.

The Study

The researchers collected baseline data from the National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS). The NHATS is a nationally-representative longitudinal study of Medicare beneficiaries (65 years and older) in the United States. The data were collected from a randomly selected subset of 2,812 participants from the NHATS population that were administered sleep questionnaires in 2013 and 2014.

“Participants with dementia at baseline (year 2013) were excluded (n = 202) for a sample of 2,812 with sleep data in either 2013 or 2014.”

The sleep characteristics measured from the questionnaire were: sleep duration, sleep latency, difficulty maintaining alertness, sleep quality, napping frequency, and snoring. First, participants rated their memory and performed a memory-related activity to assess their cognitive capacity and screen for incident dementia. Body weight was reported by participants annually, and diagnosis of heart attack, heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, stroke, and cancer were also self-reported. Annual interviews were conducted to record instances of participant mortality. The researchers used Cox proportional hazards modeling and controlled for confounders to examine each sleep characteristic and outcome.

Results

“Overall, our findings show a strong relationship between several sleep disturbance and deficiency variables and incident dementia over time.”

In the results adjusted for confounders, the team found that longer time to fall asleep and shorter sleep duration predicted incident dementia. They also found that short sleep duration, difficulty maintaining alertness, napping, and poor sleep quality predicted all-cause mortality. Given that short sleep duration was a strong predictor for both incident dementia and all-cause mortality, the researchers suggest that this may be the most important sleep characteristic related to adverse outcomes among older adults. 

“The association observed in our study between short sleep (5 hours or less) and incident dementia screening may be understood via the research drawing upon animal models to demonstrate brain toxin removal during sleep [24].”

Another fascinating finding from this study was the difference between unadjusted and adjusted results for long sleep. As mentioned, previous studies have shown that long sleep is associated with both incident dementia and all-cause mortality. However, after the researchers adjusted for confounders, such as age and chronic conditions, the association between long sleep and incident dementia and all-cause mortality disappeared. The relationship between short sleep and both incident dementia and all-cause mortality remained significant even after full adjustment. These findings stand in contrast to the meta-analyses initially mentioned that have found associations between both short and long sleep and all-cause mortality in adults. The researchers suggest the cause may be that long sleep is a reflection of underlying disease.

“The most parsimonious explanation for the disappearance of the effect of long sleep on dementia and mortality in adjusted models is that the deleterious impact of long sleep is a reflection of underlying disease.”

Conclusion

The researchers confirm that addressing the sleep disturbance and deficiency variables in this study may have a positive impact on risk for incident dementia and all-cause mortality among older adults.

“Also, future research may consider the development of novel behavioral interventions to improve sleep among older adults.”

Click here to read the full study, published on Aging-US.com.

Aging is an online open-access journal that publishes research papers monthly in all fields of aging research and other topics. These papers are available to read at no cost to readers on Aging-us.com. Open-access journals offer information that has the potential to benefit our societies from the inside out and may be shared with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and other researchers, far and wide.

For media inquiries, please contact media@impactjournals.com.

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