The Benefits of Music Therapy and Singing for Senior Mental Stimulation and Memory Function

Music has been used since the beginning of time to promote healing of mind, body and spirit.

Music is as old as language. Speech is musical, and rhythm and phrasing are even more fundamental to language than the meaning of words. Using music as therapy therefore probably dates back to before written words. Pythagoras formulated rules of harmonics, and used them as a basis for a school of philosophy and medicine. Music has long been used for self-expression and as a healing remedy; even the Bible contains accounts of the healing powers of music.

So what is music therapy? It is the use of music to promote healing and change behaviors of those suffering from diseases of the mind, body and spirit. Music therapy helps individuals achieve and maintain their highest level of functioning while restoring their dignity.

Music therapy has been used successfully to reduce anxiety, decrease pain, increase range of motion, and increase strength and mobility. Music has been used to elevate moods and emotions as well. Advertisers have used this power to sell their products. Hospitals have used it to create a serene environment in which to promote healing. This type of music therapy is called Passive.

Active music therapy has been successfully used on those having difficulties with speech or expression, as well as those suffering cognitive disabilities like Alzheimer’s. It has also been successful in helping those with diseases affecting gait, like Parkinson’s. Singing and dancing are two active therapy methods. Most notably, individuals with cognitive, speech or gait problems seem to retain their ability to sing and dance.

Sing-along is one of the most popular methods used to stimulate mental functioning in seniors. They not only remember songs of years past, but also events and people associated with the songs. This provides them with opportunities for shared experiences, while providing them with a sense of accomplishment and self-worth.

Music therapy has finally been officially recognized as a unique means of meeting the quality of life issues affecting citizens of this country. Our government has recognized it as a valid medical therapy, according to Older Americans Act Amendments, 1992. With the growing numbers of seniors with cognitive, neurological or mental diseases, this has been an important breakthrough.

See the power of music for yourself. The next time you have an opportunity to visit an elderly person with cognitive, neurological or mental disease, play some music that is from the era of their youth and watch the transformation of their body/mind/spirit—watch their eyes light up, smiles appear on their faces, or toes tapping; see anger turn to happiness, or even observe a person who has been without speech break out singing the words to a familiar song. I have personally experienced all of these miracles and it is truly magical.

Fun fact about music:  Research shows that when grocery stores slow down the background music from 108 to 60 beats per minute, it slows your cart down and you buy 37% more groceries.

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Lorena Williams
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Jaini Barker
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