Music Therapy and How It Can Help Your Senior Loved One
As our loved ones age, it is critical they remain mentally active, and there are numerous outlets they have at their disposal. From daily crossword puzzles and Sudoku, fun apps like Pokémon Go, or an engaging friendship, keeping the brain active has many solutions. And a new type of therapy is growing in popularity.
Music therapy is what’s considered a creative arts therapy, and it's being utilized more frequently. Brooke Christensen holds a Bachelor’s degree in music and choral music education from Christopher Newport University. She hosts a music therapy session group for seniors and says it offers a host of benefits. Brooke recalls how it helped one woman in particular significantly improve her communication among her group. “The group attendants noticed a marked difference from a woman who was previously shy and unengaged.” “Through music, the group started talking to her in rhythm. The woman would be tapping something out, and that was her way of communicating. It was [like] something we were doing in the [music] group,” said Christensen, who currently serves as a director of home care on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The proof goes beyond anecdotal. After studying the impact music therapy had on seniors, researchers concluded a net positive. Music’s impact may help fight against dementia and Alzheimer’s. Some classical music may calm anxiety. According to a 2017 published study, Music therapy and Alzheimer's disease: Cognitive, psychological, and behavioral effects:
“Significant improvement was observed in memory, orientation, depression and anxiety...in both mild and moderate cases; in anxiety...in mild cases; and in delirium, hallucinations, agitation, irritability, and language disorders in the group with moderate Alzheimer disease. The effect on cognitive measures was appreciable after only four music therapy sessions.”
Accessing Music Therapy
Introducing music therapy into Mom or Dad’s daily routine is easy but requires your availability. You may consider professional in-home assistance when you’re busy with family and work. If you think your loved one would enjoy the benefits of music therapy, consider asking your home care provider for a specifically trained companion who can increase musical activities inside the home and accompany your loved one to music therapy group sessions. Community centers, churches and senior centers are resources for regular senior music groups. During the holidays, look for musical performances.
Music Therapy Puts the Elderly in a Social Group
Brooke has been conducting music therapy inside private homes, churches, senior centers and assisted living centers for several years now. She appreciates the intergenerational interactions during the sessions. Christensen credits her drum circles with increasing the wellbeing of senior participants. Her drum circles include a variety of percussion and wooden instruments or "strikers and shakers," as she described them. She would hand out the instruments to each member. Following Christensen’s lead, the seniors would be encouraged to play in unison to a rhythm. The elderly interact with each other through a variety of sounds from the Djembe drum, wooden froger, maracas and tambourines.
“You’ve got memory improvement, increased socialization, lowered blood pressure,” Christensen added on the health benefits of music therapy. "We have several of our clients -- as soon as they hear this song, it calms them down. This is behavior management. It's that part of the brain; it might remind them of somebody or something."
Interactive Sing-Alongs Exercise Proper Breathing
Christensen also leads group sing-alongs for the elderly. The songs can be traditional, holiday classics or nostalgia-inducing patriotic songs. "There are many seniors who just don't say very much. They don't have a lot of people to talk to. This is an opportunity to hear themselves, an opportunity to be heard."
Singing or humming exercises the mind and body. “So often, we don’t think about [the fact] that we are not using our voice properly. We’re not breathing, we’re not connecting our whole body. Music helps us remember how to breathe,” said Christensen.
According to a 2017 published study, Music therapy is a potential intervention for cognition of Alzheimer’s Disease: a mini-review: “[Music Therapy] with singing training could improve the neural efficacy of cognition in [Alzheimer’s Disease] patients. Which also reflected that music might play an important role in the neuroplasticity mechanism in AD brain...”
A Shot of Self-Esteem
Music therapy provides your elderly loved one with a strong sense of connectedness. Christensen said the positive attention makes seniors feel more valued.
"You see this smile, and you see this recognition, ‘Oh you see me.' Often times, seniors feel like a burden or abandoned. [Music therapy sends a message.] I'm seeing and hearing you, and we're doing this together," she said.
Your elderly loved one can live a more engaged life with music therapy. Meantime, aging seniors strongly desire to stay inside their homes. A familiar domestic environment is a significant part of a senior's identity. According to a joint report by the Home Care Association of America and Global Coalition on Aging: “Nine out of 10 Americans 65 and older want to stay at home for as long as possible, and 80 percent think their current home is where they will always live.”
Consider adding music therapy to your loved one’s routine, and allow them to enjoy its soothing benefits. Keeping the brain active is critical to maintaining your loved one's health and could potentially prolong your senior’s life inside the home. Read more on the benefits of aging in place.