Harmonious Healing: Benefits of Music Therapy for Seniors
February 6, 2024 | Tiffany Wyndham Hunt, MA, MT-BC, Music Therapist – Board Certified
As we age, our bodies undergo numerous changes, and maintaining a good quality of life can become a challenge. In this pursuit of well-being, music therapy for seniors has emerged as a powerful and uplifting tool. Beyond being a source of joy and entertainment, music therapy has proven to offer physical, emotional and cognitive benefits for supporting quality of life.
Music Therapy Explained
What is music therapy anyway? According to the American Music Therapy Association, it’s the use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship. Music therapy is administered by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.
Enhancing Cognitive Function
Music has a unique ability to stimulate multiple regions of the brain simultaneously. For seniors, especially those dealing with cognitive decline or dementia, participating in music therapy can help activate neural pathways and improve their cognitive function. The rhythm, melody, harmonic progression, instrumentation, style of music, and so many other aspects can support reminiscence and memories, communication, alertness, engagement and cognitive response.
Barbara, a CC Young memory support resident, appeared tired and, when asked by our music therapist how she was doing, she commonly answered that she was “hanging in there.” During one music therapy session, Barbara was given a small tambourine and naturally began to play it. Barbara gradually became more engaged, including the time when “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was playing, and she commented, “Virginia is far away.” This was an exciting breakthrough during the session, as Barbara had been reluctant to participate.
Music has a powerful and scientifically based ability to evoke emotions and memories. Due to changing living circumstances that often accompany aging, seniors may face challenges such as loneliness, depression or anxiety. Music therapy offers an emotional outlet, comfort, relaxation and a sense of connection. Listening to or singing familiar tunes or participating in music-making activities lifts spirits, reduces stress and creates a positive emotional environment. Music is innate in our culture, and it is therefore a source of grounding. So when music is intentionally employed by a music therapist, it can produce noticeable comfort, enjoyment and camaraderie.
At the beginning of one particular group music therapy session, CC Young resident Rose was dozing in her chair. When approached by our music therapist who was playing the song “New York, New York,” Rose awoke with a big smile, began singing along and played a hand drum while moving to the beat of the music. She perked up, sharing with the group memories of her times visiting New York City and how much she loved shopping there.
Music therapy programs for seniors dealing with physical ailments or limitations can also be integrated into rehabilitation plans of care. The rhythmic patterns and coordinated movements associated with music aid in improving motor skills, coordination and overall physical well-being. Whether through dance, rhythmic exercises or playing instruments, seniors experience benefits in movement that promote physical and mental health, often aiding their rehab and road to recovery.
Music brings people together and finds common ground regardless of race, language and socio-economic factors. Music therapy does the same thing. Through group activities or one-on-one sessions, it creates a sense of community and social connection. Group singing, drum circles or interactive musical games provide opportunities for social interaction, which reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness. Music therapy creates a sense of belonging and emotional support.
At CC Young, occasionally, we will care for a resident for whom English is a second language. When Julio came to CC Young for rehab services, he was encouraged to participate in music therapy as part of his care plan. He was delighted to know the music therapist spoke Spanish and had fun joining the therapist in singing Spanish hymns.
Improved Sleep Quality
Sleep disorders are common among seniors, and they can affect physical and mental health. According to UC Davis Health, music at around 60 beats per minute, which is the same as a relaxed heart, can slow your heart rate, reduce blood pressure and promote better sleep patterns, contributing to overall improvement in quality of sleep. Likewise, listening to calming music before bedtime or incorporating music into relaxation routines can promote better sleep patterns and contribute to an overall improvement in sleep quality.
In the symphony of life, music therapy stands out as a harmonious healer on multiple levels for older adults. Music therapy’s ability to address physical, emotional and cognitive well-being makes it a valuable and accessible tool for seniors. As we continue to explore the therapeutic potential of music, it becomes increasingly clear that the melody of life can be enriched, and the challenges of aging can be met with the uplifting power of music therapy.
Want to learn more about music therapy for seniors? Contact us and get in touch with a CC Young senior living expert today.Go Back