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Image of elderly adults practicing musical therapy by banging on drums.

Music has healing, cathartic power. It’s an outlet for emotions and feelings that are difficult to communicate in words. Music can soothe, energize, and warm the heart. It’s no wonder music therapy has become such a popular therapeutic method for those providing care to older adults. 

The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as the “clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship.” 

When used with older adults who have dementia, music therapy can be used to improve moods, unlock memories, and maximize existing cognitive function.

Keep reading to learn more about three music therapy benefits for the elderly.

How It Works

Most people have a positive relationship with music resulting from their individual “life soundtrack” — those particular songs and genres that mark the passage of our lives since youth. And it’s through these songs and melodies that distant memories of people, places, and experiences can become more accessible for elderly adults experiencing memory loss. 

Here’s how it works:

Music is one of the rare stimulating factors that lights up all areas of the human brain. As such, musical memories are stored in virtually every nook and cranny of the mind, making a great number of these memories easily accessible even in the late stages of memory disorders. But it’s the auditory cortex, found in the temporal lobe, that does most of the heavy lifting. It’s simultaneously responsible for the translation of sounds and the storage of memories. Music can stimulate synapses and neurons that may have remained dormant for years. 

This is where the benefits of music therapy for seniors come into play.

The Benefits

Precisely how music affects the elderly is difficult to explain. Just like tunes and melodies are unique, our physical and emotional responses to those sounds are also unique. Everyone, therefore, experiences music in different ways — but the benefits of music remain the same:

  1. Music can improve moods.

Hearing a favorite song can be comforting and soothing. Elderly adults with memory loss often feel calmer when listening to music they enjoy. But the impact of music isn’t just emotional — it can also have a positive physical impact. For example, taking an active role in music by singing along to a popular tune can increase lung capacity as well as the amount of oxygen sent to the brain. It’s energizing, too.

  1. Music opens new lines of communication.

Many older adults living with Alzheimer’s or dementia experience a natural decline in their ability to engage their working memory, which can make it harder to carry on complex, multifaceted conversations. That’s why verbal cues are often replaced by body language, gestures, and touch when engaging with others in social situations. Music offers a new way to interact and express challenging emotions. 

  1. Music encourages movement.

Regular  movement can have an enormously positive impact on the quality of life for older adults — particularly those experiencing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Music is a wonderful way to inspire movement. It’s difficult to resist the urge to clap, tap, or dance when the right beat takes over, and this movement can help increase strength, balance, and endurance.

Whether participating in a music class, listening to music in their private suites, or enjoying a performance by one of the many local musical artists and groups that visit The Moments, our residents benefit from the therapeutic power of music every day.

Learn more about the relationship between sound and memory — and explore more benefits of music therapy for the elderly.

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