Cue the Music, Please, and Let the Memories Begin!

September 15, 2023

“Music is life itself.”

None other than Louis Armstrong said that, and whether or not you agree with him, there’s no mistaking the impact music can have on our mood, our memory and, as research has demonstrated repeatedly, our health. It’s easy to see why many senior living communities are exploring the benefits of music therapy for seniors.

Music is a mental time machine. In an instant, it can transport us into our past to a time and place we haven’t thought about in decades.

Music can become so deeply lodged in our memory that we can remember — without even trying — lyrics to songs we knew as teenagers, even when we’re well into our later years. A song plays and we find ourselves singing along as if we’d heard it only yesterday, though it may have been 40 or 50 years ago. In fact, music is the last memory we hold on to when all others have faded away.

Most of all, music helps us connect — with our emotions and inner selves, and with others.

It’s no wonder that music therapy is so powerful, particularly for older adults and those who are living with dementia.

Beating the Blues, Healing the Heart and More

“The power of music to integrate and cure … is quite fundamental.
It is the profoundest nonchemical medication.”

—Dr. Oliver Sacks, neurologist, author

Music therapy can involve playing a musical instrument, dancing, singing or simply listening to music that has meaning for the people participating in the therapy.

While just about anyone can reap the advantages, research suggests that music therapy for seniors can be especially effective. If it leads to more physical activity, music therapy for the elderly can improve:

  • Balance
  • Bone density
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Coordination
  • Flexibility
  • Mobility
  • Strength

Simply listening to the right music can:

  • Ease pain
  • Elevate mood (by increasing levels of dopamine, melatonin,
    serotonin and other “feel good” chemicals in the brain)
  • Improve breathing (through more rhythmic breath)
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce stress (by lowering cortisol)
  • Relax muscles and release tension
  • Slow the heart rate

The benefits of music therapy for seniors extend to mental health as well, helping to ease anxiety and depression. It can also improve mental processing, memory and focus.

If conducted in a group setting, music therapy for elderly adults can encourage social interactions, warding off feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Music and Memory in People Living With Dementia

“Your brain is better on music.”

— Alex Doman, author and founder of Advanced Brain Technologies

Along with all of the other benefits music therapy offers older adults, it’s widely used in memory care communities as a way to help those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. In particular, music therapy can:

  • Aid with memory recall
  • Allow those with social anxiety to relax and enjoy being around others
  • Calm those who are feeling restless or agitated
  • Encourage more physical movement, including clapping, swaying and dancing
  • Enhance communication even for those who can no longer verbalize
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Slow declines in cognition and speech skills

Music therapy is part of the MOSAIC Personalized Care program at The Variel. It takes a variety of forms, including karaoke, drumming sessions and musical entertainers from outside the community who come and perform regularly.

Giving With Their Hearts

Judy Kapler, a resident of The Variel, has been big on community involvement throughout her life. Her husband, Michael, who was a classical pianist and taught music, also enjoyed being involved and volunteering.

When Judy moved to The Variel in December, she says she missed having a purpose and wanted to do something to give back to the community. After talking with another resident whose husband is in memory care, Judy decided to set up a volunteer program for residents in independent living who want to spend time one on one with residents in memory care.

Sometimes they’ll play piano or lead sing-alongs. Other times, they’ll assist them with eating a meal or just walk with them. Not everyone in memory care has family who live close enough to visit, so the volunteers fill in where they can.

“It’s kind of an extension of how I’ve lived my life,” Judy says. “I get as much out of it as I put into it. Probably more. It feels like I’m giving something back, being there for others.”

The group started with about five volunteers and has grown to about a dozen. There’s no formal structure or schedule, although everyone is required to have some training before they volunteer, so they know what to do if certain situations arise.

“It’s turned out to be very helpful, I think, and I’d like to see it grow,” Judy says.

Gaining Greater Insight Through Ongoing Research

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music.
I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”

—Albert Einstein

The National Institute on Aging recently published some interesting research highlights on “musical medicine” and its potential influence on healthy aging. Some of the research involves determining whether a music-based listening program can help revive learning and memory functions in older adults with memory impairments.

Other research is evaluating the effectiveness of music in easing sleep disruptions and daytime issues such as agitation, anxiety and aggression in people living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.

Ready for Some Harmonious New Relationships?

Residents at The Variel love having a good time, and as you can see, they also care about others in their community. Music plays a big role not only in our special events but also in everyday activities — like our invigorating fitness classes and our happening happy hours.

Living here gives you more time to do what you enjoy, from exploring your own musical interests to meeting new neighbors like Judy, who are incorporating music into their volunteer programs.

If you would like to have a look around and talk to some of the people who already call The Variel home, contact us to set up a one-on-one visit. We’d love to meet you!

Featured Image: Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock