The family member of one of our home care clients recently recounted to us how she was rooting through her mother’s attic and uncovered a box of LPs from the 1950s. Still in their original sleeves were albums from Hank Williams, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, and Frank Sinatra. She hunted down the family’s old record player, dusted it off, and brought both the turntable and the albums to her mother’s bedroom.
Then, a little bit of magic happened. As Miles Davis’s jazz trumpet filled the room from his epic composition, “So What,” the daughter saw an immediate, positive, and happy reaction from her mother – our client – who was now in her 90s. A smile broke across her mother’s lips as her shoulders swayed ever-so-slightly. Certainly, Miles Davis was invoking memories in our client that had long been forgotten, taken her back in time to a wonderful place that was near and dear to her heart.
Such is the power of music.
Evoking Memories from an Earlier Time
Whether you are in your 90s and grew up on the bluesy voice of Billie Holiday; in your 50s and experienced the evolution of rock and roll with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, and the Beatles; or in your 30s and a fan of pop, hip hop, and reggae, we have all experienced music’s ability to create excitement and happiness, evoke memories of the past, and provide comfort and joy.
How can music do this? Very simply, locked in the memory of every person is a connection to rhythm and melody. Studies have shown that music has the ability to not only ease mental strain, but also alter a person’s mood. It’s no wonder, then, that for years, people have benefited from music therapy, which uses musical interventions to address physical, cognitive, and emotional issues in people of all ages.
7 Benefits of Music Therapy
For seniors, music therapy can promote better physical and mental health in a variety of ways by:
- Rekindling positive memories: As our client’s daughter discovered, music speaks to our emotions. The sounds we grew up with can easily bring back happy memories from different eras.
- Reducing stress and anxiety: For many older adults, stress and anxiety are part of everyday life. Listening to music can reduce both stress and anxiety by slowing high heart rates and reducing levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone. In Oxford HealthCare’s music therapy programs, therapists may use songs with certain rhythms, themes, or lyrics to help clients relax and reduce stress.
- Improving cognitive skills: Music can help seniors process their thoughts and maintain memories. Many people associate music with past events, and just hearing a song can evoke a memory even many years after an event. For dementia patients, music from their childhood or young adult years has proven to be effective in obtaining a positive response and involvement, even when the patient can no longer communicate.
- Improving speech skills: Music therapy has been proven to help older adults answer questions, make decisions, and speak clearer. It can also help slow the deterioration of speech and language skills in dementia patients. In fact, studies have shown that even when an Alzheimer’s patient loses the ability to speak, they can still recognize and even hum or sing their favorite song.
- Inspiring movement: Most adults over the age of 65 have at least one chronic condition, whether it is heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, or some other ailment. Sometimes, just getting out of bed or a chair requires effort. It’s a fact of life that as we age, we slow down, and if you are also dealing with a chronic condition, you just might come to a complete stop. Music, however, can motivate older adults to get moving, whether it’s by dancing, clapping, or even tapping their toes. Our music therapy programs use drums and tambourines to encourage seniors to participate and make their own music.
- Promoting social interaction: Music is known to bring people together. In music therapy programs, older adults are encouraged to communicate and connect with other members of their group, often making new friends in the process. The social aspect of music therapy also helps seniors alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.
- Calming nervousness: Just as lullabies work magic with infants, so, too, can music calm a nervous senior. Music that is slow and peaceful or evokes a sense of beauty and well-being can stabilize a fragile nervous system.
No doubt, music is powerful medicine not only for seniors, but also for all of us. So, the next time you or a loved one need a little pick me up, turn to your favorite album or song, whether that song is “I’m a Believer” by The Monkeys, or Jon Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory.”