Aged Care Online

Need help finding an aged care provider? My Care Path offers a free support service. Call 1300 197 230

Growing a Greater Sense of Life Through Music

on Tuesday, April 25, 2017

There are many robust conversations on the power of music for seniors. In recent years, this topic has escalated as we sharpen our focus on health, well-being and re-enablement for older persons. It has flowed past the idea that music is a heavenly pursuit, a stimulant or relaxant. Or a diversion. We now talk about the intentional use of music to heighten therapeutic, emotional and spiritual status in an older individual.

The benefits of music promoting emotional well-being has already been established. We now know that playing familiar music of an era to seniors rekindles positive memories and emotions. In this sense, MACS supports its residents to celebrate their cultural roots on national days. Their specific cultural music is played within festivities stirring sentiments and lifting spirits.

And, for the past few years, the Alive Inside Foundation and the research of Oliva Sacks has been groundbreaking. It revealed great examples of raising well-being and happiness by playing individual specific music to older persons.

Through an inspirational, award winning documentary, Alive Inside, we experience how the gift of familiar music reawakens a person’s lost identity. As older people listen on headphones to their favourite music of their era, we watch transfixed. It’s as if we are seeing these listeners bloom, their joyous positive reactions conveyed in response to their “own” music.

It’s also now recognized that every person’s memory is connected to rhythm and melody. Music has a way of easing mental strain and can alter a person’s mood.

Diane Snyder-Cowan in Anne-Marie Botek’s Healing harmonies: Music as Medicine for Seniors and Caregivers, points out that human beings are governed by rhythms. And these rhythms drive our existence.

And such discoveries have the potential to improve quality of life to someone who lives with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This disease causes impairment of memory, in particular episodic and autobiographical memories, as well as difficulties in interaction between the self and the world. But the least disturbed aspects of this disease include awareness of identity. For those with AD then, listening to music removes the need for involved discussion, and accordingly removes communication obstacles.

But listening to familiar music, either live, group singing or recorded can also provide an opportunity for reconnection with others and improved quality of life. It engages all those involved in listening as they share the experience perhaps with family members. In doing so, it has the potential to reinforce some level of emotional closeness and meaningful interactions that may have been lost due to dementia. And at MACS, our Lifestyle team encourage attendances at such activities, inclusive of families.

Music, as a therapy for seniors, seems to clearly operate on many levels. Perhaps it relieves boredom for those who are less physically active, or hearing impaired and who become increasingly isolated and socially disconnected.  And it certainly prompts movement, even minimal movement, such as foot tapping or hand clapping which in themselves are stress releases and happiness triggers.

But what about the effects of listening to unknown classical music? Stanford University School of Medicine in California studied how the brain processed listening to short symphonies by an obscure 18th-century composer.

In a nutshell, the study showed that music engaged the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory. Peak brain activity occurred in between musical movements; in concerts people listened to the music with a free-flowing attention.

For over the past two years, Melbourne Recital Centre (MRC) has been performing concerts at MACS for residents and home care consumers who were unable to attend live fine music performances. These world-class performances were extended to families and friends. For instance, on 31 March, MACS had the pleasure of welcoming Melbourne Recital Centre’s Melbourne Guitar Quartet to their residential aged care home.

Winners of the 2016 contemporary masters award, the quartet played well-known classical compositions including Vivaldi and Rodrigo on a variety of guitars. And through the generosity of MRC, residents and home care recipients who may have never had the chance to listen to classical music, could access it through live performance on site at MACS.  Some came in wheelchairs or princess chairs to experience the magic of live fine music. It meant they were not excluded from the event.

Perhaps the effects of listening to unfamiliar music on the mind and well-being can be held with the same high regard as familiar music. For music in itself remains a language free of all boundaries and isn’t bound by cultural norms. It still speaks to all of us. And the fact remains that MACS’ residents and home care consumers and their families and friends welcome new vistas in music.

This should not come as a surprise, though. When MRC Irish band Ogham Soup played their concerts at MACS, there was an Italian resident who attended. He was asked if he like Irish music. With a grin he quipped, “Well, I like it now.”

Find out more about Multicultural Aged Care Services (MACS)