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Benefits of Listening to Music for Seniors

Music. Often considered the language of the soul, or of the heart, or known as the language of love. However you classify it, music is powerful. It can evoke emotions on a very deep and personal level. It has the ability to ignite memories and fuel the spirit. Music can also be used as a form of therapy, especially in seniors and those with dementia or other related cognitive impairments. The healing properties of music may be just as beneficial as any other type of therapy.

Author Haruki Murakami once said, “Music brings a warm glow to my vision, thawing mind and muscle from their endless wintering.”

Music therapy is a common practice in the world of senior living communities, especially in memory care units, but it can also be common in independent living and assisted living communities as well. Music therapy has been shown to help with: increase in self-esteem, muscle relaxation, lowered levels of anxiety, and more. For those with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other related cognitive impairments, having music as a form of therapy can be an amazing thing. Music therapy translates its benefits over to the families as well. It’s easy to notice your loved one go from not speaking and being unengaging, to suddenly singing songs, making strides at speech again, and being more engaged in the world around them.

93% of Americans listen to music, and on average spend 25 hours weekly doing it. Almost 30 million people in America play a musical instrument. When it comes to music therapy, there are two kinds: passive and active.

Passive Music Therapy

Passive music therapy involves simply listening to music. The key to passive music therapy though is to cater the type of music to the listener’s preference. If the one receiving music therapy enjoyed jazz, for example, then playing jazz would be most beneficial. Listening to music is known to help the brain remember certain tasks, reduce anxiety, stress, as well as increasing motivation, focus, and attention. In senior living communities, like Bonaventure Senior Living independent living, assisted living, and memory care, music is a common theme throughout the day. Generally there is music playing in common areas, as well as special performances throughout the month.

Active Music Therapy

Active music therapy is the process of using objects, like instruments, to make music. Things like drum circles or sing-a-longs are perfect ways to engage those in need of active music therapy. While passive music can greatly affect the mind, active music tends to have a greater effect on both mind and body. This is due to the physical requirements using an instrument needs, such as lifting an arm up and down to strike the surface of a drum. This effect can translate into being able to use a fork, or lift a glass of water. The benefits of music can truly be astounding.

Both types of music therapy are beneficial. Usually a trained music therapist will first determine the condition the patient is in and then develop a plan based around that. Normally, they’ll start with passive music therapy until active music therapy becomes more applicable.

The Many Benefits of Music

can give a voice to those without one. By introducing it into the lives of those with cognitive impairments, therapists are seeing gradual improvements in speech abilities. The introduction of music into the lives of those with speech problems not only works with those suffering from Alzheimer’s and related diseases, but also helps with those recovering from strokes.

Of course, music therapy will not cure the underlying disease, but it may slow the progression of the disease and it may also boost abilities that the disease would normally hinder. Each person is affected differently by music therapy. One that lives in a memory care community may suddenly be able to speak and interact in ways they weren’t before, while another may not show any signs of improvement. It is all dependent on the person’s brain and how music affects it. Each therapy session must be tailored to the individual, their musical likes, and must also be reflective of their history.

There are numerous studies on why the brain reacts to music the way it does, but the studies are still inconclusive. More research will be needed on the brain before the studies on the brain’s reaction to music can be properly completed.

Government Recognition

Even with music therapy and its validity being in a state of grey, the government does recognize its benefits. In 1992, the United States passed an act into law called the “Music Therapy for Older Americans Act.” It states:

“Music Therapy for Older Americans Act – Amends the Older Americans Act of 1965 to add music therapy to: (1) the lists of services for frail older individuals in their homes and services for older individuals, particularly those with the greatest economic and social need, designed to satisfy their special needs and improve their quality of life; (2) a list of supportive services for older individuals; and (3) the list of schools within colleges and universities in which training programs in the field of aging can be developed. Adds music, art, and dance therapy to the list of services under the definition of “preventive health services” and to the list of demonstration projects which will improve or expand supportive services or otherwise promote the well-being of older individuals. Requires the Commissioner of the Administration on Aging, in making contracts or entering into grants for such projects, to give special consideration to education, training, and information dissemination projects that assist older individuals through music therapy.”

Music therapy has come a long way, but still has a long way to go. Its benefits for those suffering from various forms of cognitive impairment certainly outweigh any negatives, which are nil.

If you would like to learn more about music therapy, as well as other different topics that relate to independent living, assisted living, and memory care, you can check out our Facebook.

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