Use Music to Help Your Senior Parent

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I love music.

It makes me feel good about myself. The rhythms make a difference with my heart beat and help keep me focused.

I can’t imagine life without music.

—Kathi, resident of The Arbors at Greenfield

Everyone loves music. Music has the power to:

  • Improve visual and verbal skills
  • Preserve brain health
  • Increase happiness
  • Strengthen the heart
  • Lower pulse and blood pressure
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Boost your immune system
  • Reduce pain
  • Alleviate depression and anxiety

Listening to Music Makes Life Better for Seniors

For seniors, music does even more.

Exercising to music increases balance and reduces the risk of falling. People with Parkinson’s walk better when they hear music. Rhythmic music can also improve the gait of people who’ve had strokes, as well as those with late-stage dementia.

Music increases communication and reduces agitation in those with dementia. Studies show that music boosts recall and memory for everyone. It also enhances cognitive abilities.

“My mom had Alzheimer’s. Towards the end, she would be sleeping and one person that would visit her would sing her favorite hymn, ‘In The Garden’, and she would sort of wake up and start singing it.”

—Susan, The Arbors at Greenfield.

Listening to music increases social interaction, which is often a problem for older people who may not get out as much. Studies indicate the training your mind and body go through for musical comprehension is the same as that for speech and verbal skills

Research has shown that listening to music increases self-esteem and improves mood.

Playing Mozart for epileptic patients quietens the electrical activity associated with seizures.

“Neurologically and chemically, music changes your system. Hormones—like dopamine, which helps us feel good, and serotonin, which can help us relax—are released into our system,” says Evaline, a music teacher whose mother, also a music teacher, lives at The Arbors at Greenfield

“Music changes brain waves, especially in the area of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s. It can be a communal activity, whether you’re listening to the music or performing it. Music can help you put more effort into exercise. It can also reduce stress help you fall asleep,” Evaline adds.

Playing Music Provides Added Benefits

Playing music provides even more advantages in thinking, memory, productivity, mobility, coordination, creativity, and stress relief than listening.

Alicia Clair, professor emeritus of music therapy at the University of Kansas, says playing instruments helps with socialization, a key factor in maintaining the health of older adults. “They can get people to play together who can’t even talk to one another,” she said. “It allows them to build community — with each other and with family members.”

Instruments don’t have to be complicated to produce results. Seniors can use a drum or other percussion instrument and reap many of the same benefits as playing the piano. Other easy-to-play instruments include the harmonica, kazoo, pianica, recorder, Irish or pennywhistle and, last but not least, your voice.

Help Your Parent with Music

How can you use music to improve your parent’s life?

  • Add music to their life. Make music easily accessible by purchasing a clock radio and using the music “alarm” to play music at set times during the day. Sing or play music while you’re preparing dinner or doing chores and encourage your parent to join you.
  • Play music from their past. You don’t have to go out and buy music; instead, try Pandora. There are also videos with music on YouTube.
  • Turn on some music and dance with your parent. It will make both of you feel better!
  • Buy a couple drums or other musical instruments and play them with your parent.
  • Attend free concerts. Most towns host free concerts. Bring your parent along, and both of you can enjoy the music and socialization.
  • Use music as a background to their life. Classical music doesn’t interfere with thoughts and can improve your parent’s cognition and stress levels. Try playing it in the background all day.

The Arbors Uses Music Therapy

The Arbors Assisted Living Residential Communities incorporate music into all aspects of life.

“Every one of our buildings has a music program. We do music social weekly and wrap them around many different themes,” says Pattie Ricketts, Regional Reflections Program and activity director. “Our Amherst site actually has residents and volunteers that run their own music socials. Music programs are very popular with the senior population.”

 

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