Global digital radio networks offering "sound vitamins" for the elderly could help slow ageing.
An international research project funded by the European Union has been launched to test a system that uses speech and music channels to give the stimulation needed to slow the ageing process.
Researchers have long argued that physical and mental stimulation can reduce the decline linked with old age and isolation. But as numbers of elderly rise, the challenge is to find a flexible and economical way of achieving this.
Leicester University psychologist Adrian North, who is coordinating the fieldwork, said: "Humans are social creatures and it is crucial that we have social stimulation. An ageing population means it will be harder to give adequate care for the elderly, so we need more efficient ways of giving stimulation or welfare bills will go through the roof.
"This is a digital radio service targeted at older people that has great potential for improving their wellbeing," said Dr North, who is renowned for his research into music and human behaviour. "Old people really enjoy it, and it prompts discussions with care-home staff," he added.
The system, called SilverBird, has been developed by a small Helsinki-based company, Audio Riders. It gives six sound channels, including quizzes, keep-fit exercises, reminiscences, stories and music, in a choice of four languages. It is also available on the internet.
In the study, pensioners will use SilverBird several times a week for 30 minutes, either alone or in groups. The benefits will be tracked through a series of standard psychological tests to measure loneliness, depression, friendships and contact with the outside world.
Research will take place in care homes run by Miinan Hoitolat in Finland and Anchor Trust in the United Kingdom. Both non-profit organisations are helping residents live independent lives.
Dr North hopes to tailor SilverBird to individual needs via a web-based questionnaire. The £180,000 study is being funded by the EU eContent programme and will take a year to complete.