Humans, young and old alike, have a positive response to music. When we hear something that makes our feet tap, it has the ability to release chemicals in our brain such as dopamine; these chemicals are released in the pleasure centers of the brain to make us feel good! There have been research conducted by neuroscientists, physicians, and music therapists that look at brain imaging and clinical studies on what music does to a person’s physical state. They all support the same idea: more music, please!
A Brief History
After World War II, music therapy gained recognition when nurses and doctors started noticing patients having a positive response to music as a way to cope with their emotional traumas from battle. While its healing powers could not be ignored, music as a form of therapy was created. Educational programs around the country started up so that way people could professionally practice music in a medical setting.
Songs and melodies have the innate ability to be nostalgic for many people. It’s common to hear something and instantly be taken back to the time and place you first heard it. Music therapy has been linked to improving memory loss because it’s easier for an elderly person to tap into that specific memory of a melody rather than recall a persons name or seemingly random past event. Songs oftentimes, stay with the brain much easier than faces or specific details. With Alzheimer’s and dementia, patients can become easily agitated and as the disease progresses and become nonverbal even. In some instances, music therapy has been shown to spark brain activity in these nonverbal seniors and cause them to hum or sing along. A study conducted on a group on Finish stroke survivors even found that listening to music from their past life while in rehabilitation helped them regain their ability to recognize words and communicate.
Using Music to Heal
Caregivers and family members who have a senior in their life that they care for can incorporate music into their daily routine to help with a variety of health issues as discussed prior. A couple suggestions on how to use music in everyday situations are the following:
-Talk to them, and find out their favorite tunes. Caregivers should have some conversations about music preferences from a senior’s past life. Maybe they recall a certain jazz performance from their 20s or a song from a previous vinyl collection. Try and name artists from their youth if they’re struggling to remember— Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Tony Bennett are good names to start with. “Most people enjoy music most familiar to them,” says Alicia Clair, a professor of music therapy at the University of Kansas, who studies the effects of music on dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke, and physical frailty.
-Play music to suit the time of day. If you spend all day with a senior in a caregiving role, try and play soothing and uplifting music when you wake them up to start they day or while they shower. Music therapy has been known to help lower blood pressure, so starting out their day with peaceful tunes can reiterate a safe and low stress environment
-Play music they like. Eventually you’ll understand what type of music the senior in your life enjoys, so making it accessible and easy to listen to is the next step in utilizing music as a therapeutic tool. Technology can be confusing, especially in todays day and age. Take the time to make a playlist for your senior on something simple for them to just hit play. Even though CDs are outdated, they may be the easiest way for many seniors to play music. If they’re a little more tech savvy, suggest a playlist on a computer or phone so the music can be a little more portable. This will come in handy when they travel, or have doctor’s appointment where they’re undergoing treatment for something upsetting.