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Music Therapy Proposes Cognitive Health Benefits for Seniors

Music is powerful. It is a mnemonic device, a common interest point, and a therapeutic medium. Simply put, it provides an emotional escape that allows for individuals to connect over shared feelings and experiences.

Studies have shown that music has the ability to provide positive mental health benefits for individuals who are affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia. Among the many perks of music therapy are: controlled stress management, stimulation of positive interactions, facilitation of cognitive function and coordination of motor movements.

People associate music with important events and experiences in their lives and oftentimes a connection to a song is so strong that it evokes emotions and revives memories from the past. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, “selections from [an] individual’s young adult years—ages 18 to 25—are most likely to have the strongest responses and the most potential for engagement.”

Unfamiliar music can also be beneficial to individuals struggling with Alzheimer’s and dementia. When individuals develop new responses, such as learning to relax for stress management purposes, unfamiliar music carries no prior memories or emotions and allows for people to create healthy habits and associations with a new song or artist.

Music therapy can spark favorable outcomes even in the latest stages of these diseases. Here are some tips for individuals at every stage, provided by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America:

Early stage—

  • Go out dancing or dance in the house.

  • Listen to music that the person liked in the past—whether swing or Sinatra or salsa. Recognize that perceptual changes can alter the way individuals with dementia hear music. If they say it sounds horrible, turn it off; it may to them.

  • Experiment with various types of concerts and venues, giving consideration to endurance and temperament.

  • Encourage an individual who played an instrument to try it again.

  • Compile a musical history of favorite recordings, which can be used to help in reminiscence and memory recall.

Early and middle stages—

  • Use song sheets or a karaokeplayer so the individual can sing along with old-time favorites.

Middle stage—

  • Play music or sing as the individual is walking to improve balance or gait.

  • Use background music to enhance mood.

  • Opt for relaxing music—a familiar, non-rhythmic song—to reduce sundowning, or behavior problems at nighttime.

Late stage—

  • Utilize the music collection of old favorites that you made earlier.

  • Do sing-alongs, with “When the Saints Go Marching In” or other tunes sung by rote in that person’s generation.

  • Play soothing music to provide a sense of comfort.

  • Exercise to music.

  • Do drumming or other rhythm-based activities.

  • Use facial expressions to communicate feelings when involved in these activities.

To learn more about music and memory, be sure to check out the new film, Alive Inside, which is in theaters now.

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