Music has long had the power to inspire a range of intense emotions. More often than not, it makes us feel good. That’s because it activates regions in the brain that stimulate a rush of dopamine. Fortunately, our love of music doesn’t fade as we grow older. In fact, research shows that music can be used as an effective tool in memory care to help those suffering Alzheimer’s or dementia to enhance memory, process emotions, and deepen connections.
In a study conducted at UC Irvine, Alzheimer’s patients improved their scores on memory tests when they listened to classical music. In another revealing study, adults ages 60 to 85 were able to improve their processing speed and memory after just three months of weekly 30-minute piano lessons and three hours a week of practice. There is also evidence that suggests people who played a musical instrument as a child for a decade or longer are at an advantage when it comes to having a sharper mind later in life. In a study, researchers tested 70 people between the ages of 60 and 83 with a number of tests that measured memory and other cognitive skills. They scored significantly higher than the control group.
For those who didn’t play a musical instrument when they were younger, there are still plenty of ways to benefit from the power of music. Participating in arts and music programs, such as the Thriving Through Music program available through Watermark University, can have a positive effect on both mental and physical health, regardless of musical talent or ability. Studies show that music therapy can help improve behavioral, cognitive, and social functioning.
Going beyond listening to music merely for enjoyment, music therapy is defined by the American Music Therapy Association as, “an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.” Drumming, for instance, can often be used to connect with family members or to express anger or other emotions. It can also serve as a non-verbal form of communication. Singing, which incorporates a breathing element, can be relaxing and also lessen the anxiety surrounding everyday transitions. By focusing on the lyrics, people are less likely to focus on their discomfort in the moment. Like scent, music has the power to transport us to another time and place. With the use of personally meaningful music, it’s possible to access memories that may have been locked away.
Aside from the promising research done on music and its ability to reawaken parts of the brain and unlock memories, music also has the potential to reduce stress, lower heart rate, and regulate blood pressure and respiration rates. There is even evidence that it can influence seniors’ perception about their quality of life. With that in mind, consider how you can introduce music into your loved one’s life, perhaps with a personalized playlist or one of our music-oriented classes at Watermark University.
“Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”—Leonard Bernstein