Many adults between the ages of 65 and 85 experience at least one chronic condition such as heart disease, arthritis, or diabetes. Older adults are also 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, there are other therapies available that can be beneficial to seniors. Music and music therapy have been proven to help seniors restore and maintain their health, both physically and mentally.
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 as a tool to cope with grief. Many older adults find it helpful to capture the personality of their loved one through their favorite songs, or through those that carry a specific memory. Music therapists encourage clients to listen to these songs throughout the process of grieving 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. However, as we age, socializing with others and maintaining healthy relationships becomes an important part of our well-being. Many older adults find music to be a helpful way to connect with others through dancing, reminiscing over popular music from their younger years, or going to see the symphony or opera.
While music has benefits for everyone, recent research suggests that it can 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, oftentimes memories are 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 which can lead to other expressions of affection like hugging and smiling.
When you listen to music, you might find yourself tapping your toes or singing along to the words. You can also find this kind of behavior in those who have been 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.
You don’t have to be an expert to reap the benefits of music. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association compiled a list of ways to practice music therapy in the comfort of your own 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 choose what kind of music to play, go with your favorite selections. If you are choosing music for someone else, think back to what they grew up with, or music from the first concert they might have attended. When we play what we know, oftentimes 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, it’s important to 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 if possible can help improve cognitive function by increasing blood flow throughout the body.
• Avoid sensory overload. For those who have limited cognitive function, loud music and a chaotic environment can be extremely 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.
Playing music with someone one can create a very special bond, especially between caregivers and their loved ones. However, for a more interactive approach, you might consider one of these activities to do together.
• Make your own music. Playing music can boost your mood while also improving cognitive function and fine motor skills. If you’re able, you might consider bringing a few simple instruments for your loved one with play with. Even strumming a few chords on the guitar can have a powerful affect 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 togetherAs the holiday season approaches, you might consider listening to your favorite Christmas music and singing along. This can be a great way to socialize with others, while also getting in the mood for all of the festivities ahead.
At Maplewood Senior Living, we know how much music can benefit our residents. That’s why we incorporate music into the daily lives of our residents in many ways. Whether it is music softly playing in our lobby to create a warm and welcoming ambiance, a local band or musician performing a concert to entertain residents and guests, or a formal music therapy program designed for individuals with dementia, like Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging’s Making Connections through Music program. You can read more about our partnership with Benjamin Rose Institute on Again and this program in our blog, or contact us for more information about our facilities.
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