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Music Therapy

Music.  It evokes our emotions in many forms.  One song can take us back to our childhood while another, to our first love.  Some songs can remind us of heartaches, while others remind us of happy times.  Even after not hearing a song for many years, you will find yourself singing along to verses you though had been long forgotten.

Playing music is a very complex undertaking for the brain because it engages multiple areas of the brain simultaneously, which can lead to improved brain health and help, at a minimum, slow brain decline.  To play an instrument, for example, requires a variety of processes – listed below.

  • Fine motor movements and an intact sensory system to manipulate and instrument
  • Immediate processing of visual and auditory elements of a melody
  • Mathematical precision and internal rhythm to keep tempo
  • Emotional interpretation of the sound
  • Coordination with other performers (The Michael J Fox Foundation)

Music and Health

While we all have memories, some are easier to access than others.  In seniors, memories of music are thought to be easier to access than memories of faces and names.  Research indicates that the areas of the brain that store our musical memories are often unaffected by diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s.  This extends to the parts of the brain that remember how to play a musical instrument.  Studies also indicate that listening or playing music can often help bridge memory gaps between specific memories.

Music and Parkinson’s

In Parkinson’s disease, the chemical dopamine is lacking in the brain.  This leads to the uncoordinated, jerky, and delayed motor movements associated with Parkinson’s disease.  Emotional experiences, which often come from music, increase the release of dopamine.  This can lead to more fluid motor movements, like dancing.  Unfortunately, when the music stops, so does the increase in dopamine production and the movement.

Music and Dementia

Since the portions of the brain storing music memory are often unaffected by dementia, music can help improve a variety of issues.  Mood, behavior, and cognitive function improve in dementia patients with music.  Unlike in Parkinson’s though, the improvements last long after the music stops.

In healthy adults, who learn to play an instrument, have shown improved cognitive test performance.  Playing music activates multiple areas of the brain, and, in the long run, this can lead to a re-connection between the two hemispheres of the brain.  Using music early in life, in theory, can help prevent cognitive decline. (Practical Neurology, The Michael J Fox Foundation, Mayo Clinic)

Music and Home Health

All caregivers can provide a loved one with musical experiences and outlets, while specific goals and music can, and should, be guided by a licensed Music Therapist.  Consider creating playlists which encourage loved ones and clients to sing along, tap their feet, or clap their hands.  If they played an instrument in the past, giving them access to play the same instrument will often give them access to old memories.

It is suggested that combining songs with daily routine activities like eating and washing, will make them easier to do.  This is done by developing a rhythm that helps to recall memory of the activity, empowering them to it easier.

At first, it is important to listen to music with your senior and watch them and take notes.  Look for clues in facial changes, gestures, and body language.  Use these clues to gauge the effect the song is having on their moods and emotions.  Is the music stimulating or soothing?  Is it having an intended or unintended change?  These changes could be bringing joy, raising mood, or causing sadness or irritation.  Does music turn a bad mood into a good one, trigger a lost memory, or help to ground someone into the present movement?  Make notes and add or remove songs from a playlist to achieve the desired effects.

To choose music, look at the popular songs from the years when your loved one was 18-25 years old.  According to studies, this is when musical preferences are honed.  Certified musical therapist, Rachel Rambach, created a list of 12 Songs Every Music Therapist Should Know.  This might be a helpful starting point to creating a list tailored to your loved one or client.

If you are considering making a play list for your loved one, here are some things to consider.

  1. Think about their preferences.
    1. Ask them directly what they like, or gauge reactions.  Involve friends and family by asking them for suggestions.
  2. Set the mood.
    1. Think about what you want to do.  Calm during meal times, sundowns, or morning hygiene – play/sing soothing music.  Boost mood or get someone moving – use upbeat music.
  3. Sing along.
    1. Sing along with the music together to help boost mood and enhance relationships.
  4. Avoid over-stimulation.
    1. When you play music, eliminate other competing noises such as the television and outside noises.  Shut windows and doors if necessary.  Opt for music that is uninterrupted by commercials to decrease confusion.
  5. Encourage movement.
    1. Help them to clap along, tap feet, wave hands, or even dance if possible.
  6. Pay attention to responses.
    1. Note which songs are most enjoyed and play them often.  As well, if someone reacts negatively, make a note and remove that song, or type of music from the playlist. (A Place for Mom, Mayo Clinic, Dementia Care Central).

For local music therapy, contact Safe @ Home.  We can help refer you to a certified music therapist and help with transportation, therapy, and more.

(Clear Care Monthly)

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