How music enrichment can change the lives of seniors
Music is a healing tool that unlocks parts of the brain that were previously unavailable. It has a profound effect on people everywhere, especially seniors.
As the Music Programming Coordinator for Chicago Methodist Senior Services, I spend a lot of time around older individuals. Some of them are outgoing, a few are rather reserved and some of them vary day-to-day. One resident who has memory loss preferred isolation and never wanted to come out of her room -- until she rediscovered a love of music.
I knew this resident had once been quite the piano player, and I wondered if she would enjoy playing again.
So I offered her a deal: If she would teach me how to improve my piano playing, I'd help her transcribe early 20th-century jazz music she loved.
Weeks later, the difference was night and day. She became more sociable, and I see her personality flower every time we work together.
Music brings out the best in people.
For older adults, especially people with memory loss, it can improve their mood, energize them and help combat other side effects of memory loss like depression and anxiety. Studies showing the positive influence of music on seniors have existed for quite some time.
The late Oliver Sacks, M.D., noted neurologist and best-selling author of "Musicophilia," said people with memory loss who listen to nostalgic songs can remember times in their lives when they first heard the music. They gain entry to memories and emotions that were previously inaccessible to them.
Another study from the University of California, Davis mapped brain patterns of people listening to familiar music. The results showed that specific brain regions linked emotions and autobiographical memories -- which are recollections of specific episodes, like the first time you drove a car or going to high school homecoming -- are triggered by music.
These studies reveal a unique relationship between music and memory. It's time to acknowledge the value of music in older adults' well-being and integrate it into their care.
Chicago Methodist Senior Services' new "Sounds of Healing" program incorporates therapeutic music into the overall healthcare plans of residents, in hopes that each resident will take something away from listening to live music performances or sharing an iPod with volunteers to hear some of their favorite artists. These music sessions are often personalized to residents' tastes and offer anything from a sing-along Hawaiian hula tune to a raucous "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" chant followed by discussions over White Sox versus Cubs.
We are lucky and thankful to be able to provide therapeutic music to residents. It should be every person's right to have opportunities to engage with music in a way helps them alleviate stress, boost their mood or trigger memories.
I think back to my time spent with the piano-playing resident and the way rediscovering music brought her out of her shell and brightened her mood. But you don't have to be a skilled pianist to experience the powerful effects of therapeutic music. Older adults of any background can experience an improved quality of life with the joy of music.
To learn more about Chicago Methodist Senior Services, visit www.cmsschicago.org.