As we age, we’re more at risk of developing one or more chronic diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, or diabetes. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, 85 percent of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, while 60 percent have at least two. Older adults are also more likely to experience changes in their physical and mental capabilities, and often seek medical help to improve their conditions. In addition to seeking the advice of a healthcare provider and making necessary lifestyle changes, other therapies may benefit seniors. Music and music therapy have proven to help seniors restore and maintain their physical and mental health.
Music for Everyday Life
Even if you aren’t experiencing illness or disease, there are many benefits music can have just by listening or playing an instrument.
Many music therapists help their clients navigate the recent loss of a loved one by using music to cope with grief. Many older adults find it helpful to capture the personality of their loved one through favorite songs that carry a specific memory. Music therapists encourage clients to listen to these songs during the grieving process to remember a loved one and reflect on the time spent together.
Improving cognitive function
Listening to music daily can also improve how fast we process information. Music teaches us to recognize our emotions, and when we practice this often, processing emotions and information we consume becomes similar to muscle memory.
It’s not uncommon for older adults to feel lonely or isolated, especially after the loss of their spouse or friend. As we age, socializing with others and maintaining healthy relationships is vital to our well-being. Many older adults find music a helpful way to connect with others through dancing, reminiscing over popular music from their younger years, or listening to a symphony or opera.
Music’s Effect on Alzheimer’s Patients
Music benefits everyone and can be especially helpful for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. With the help of music, many Alzheimer’s patients see a boost in brain activity, which can result in the following benefits:
Evokes emotions and memories
According to Neurologist Oliver Sacks, music can evoke emotion even in severe cases of Alzheimer’s. When we experience emotions, memories are often quick to follow. When we pair everyday activities with music, Alzheimer’s patients are able to recall the memory associated with that activity, which can ultimately improve cognitive function.
Encourages emotional and physical closeness
As Alzheimer’s and dementia progress, many older adults lose their ability to express and share emotions with others. However, through music and rhythm, many ambulatory patients can express themselves through dancing other expressions of affection like hugging and smiling.
Do you find yourself tapping your toes or singing along when you listen to music? This reaction is common in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Music has a way of capturing and keeping their attention for a period of time, especially during live performances.
Practicing Music Therapy at Home
You don’t have to be an expert to reap the benefits of music. The Alzheimer’s Association compiled a list of ways to practice music therapy in the comfort of your home. If you are a caregiver or are interested in music yourself, here are few tips for playing with music at home:
- Play music that is familiar. When choosing music to play, go with your favorite selections. If you are choosing for someone else, select tunes that reflect their childhood era. When we play what we know, often happy memories will come with it, improving your mood and encouraging positive mental health.
- Choose continuous music. Keep the distractions to a minimum. While the radio or playing music from an application on your smart phone can be enjoyable, try and avoid commercials and frequent disruptions that can cause confusion. You might consider listening to a CD or record instead.
- Use music to create the mood you want to experience. Music can be a great way to practice controlling your emotions. For example, if you’ve had a busy or stressful day, you might consider playing slow and calming music to help you think more clearly and slow your breathing. Playing a fast-paced song from your childhood could help boost your mood and evoke positive thoughts.
- Encourage movement. If you are practicing music therapy with someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, try adding movement while listening. Clapping, tapping your feet, or dancing can help improve cognitive function by increasing blood flow throughout the body.
- Avoid sensory overload. For those with limited cognitive function, loud music and a chaotic environment can be stressful. You might consider starting the music out softly on a low volume and increasing it slowly until you find the appropriate level. In addition, you might consider turning off the television and shutting the windows and doors.
Harnessing the Power of Music
Playing music with someone can create a special bond, especially between caregivers and their loved ones. For a more interactive approach, consider one of these activities to do together.
- Make your own music. Playing music can boost your mood while improving cognitive function and fine motor skills. If you’re able, you might consider bringing a few simple instruments for your loved one to play with. Even strumming a few chords on the guitar can have a powerful effect on your mood. Instruments like the drum or a steel triangle can be fun to play and simple for those who have limited physical abilities.
- Highlight hobbies. As traveling becomes more difficult, it can be a challenge to see live musical performances. If you or a loved one grew up enjoying the symphony or opera, you might consider downloading a live performance and listening at home.
- Sing together. Participating in activities such as sing-a-longs can be a great way to socialize with others while also harnessing the power of music in everyday life.
At Inspīr, art and music are one of our Nine Core Elements. Art and music are universal languages. They energize the senses, tap into faded memories and invigorate the soul. We infuse art and music into our experiences on a weekly basis, and use them regularly as therapeutic tools.