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The Benefits of Music Therapy

More often than we realize, music is used as a form of therapy whether we do so intentionally or not. Music has a way of reminding us of a certain time and place or a feeling we may have had at a given period of time. It allows us to escape and take a break from whatever it is we may be going through in order to experience something a little more positive or even help us get through a difficult situation we may be experiencing. The idea of healing through sound dates back all the way to ancient Greece when music was used as a way to combat mental illness. Since then, music has become a tool used to boost morale in the military or sports teams, to help people be more productive during work and (if you subscribe to the belief) even to ward off evil spirits through the use of chanting. In more recent developments, music has been linked to numerous health benefits such as reducing stress, anxiety and depression, lowering blood pressure and the risk of stroke and heart disease, as well as pain reduction and combating memory loss.

The technical definition of music therapy, as defined by the American Music Therapy Association, is “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” It’s a bit of a mouthful but, to put it simply, music is used in various ways in order to meet the individual’s needs or accomplish a goal they may have. This can come from playing instruments, listening to specific songs, lyric analysis, or engaging in relaxation exercises while listening to music. Common goals might include improved communication, emotional expression or to provide some form of emotional support. With these goals in mind, music therapy is a great option for seniors, primarily those with cognitive impairments. Because the key areas associated with music and memories linked to music aren’t largely affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia, people suffering from those conditions can still enjoy music and improve their memory recollection.

A few of the benefits of music therapy for people with dementia include the ability to bring back memories and emotions. As mentioned earlier, we all have songs that bring us back to a certain time, place or feeling and this can also still ring true for people with dementia. While they may not be able to recall specifics of their memories, playing familiar songs from their past may help them retrieve the feeling they associate with some of their favorite times from their past. What’s even greater is that because areas of the brain where music is processed and stored aren’t as affected by dementia, people can still appreciate the song and sometimes sing along even in the more advanced stages of the disease. This is something that is not only amazing for the people with dementia, but it also provides a moment where family and friends can feel more connected to their loved ones through music. A few other things that have been observed during formal sessions of music therapy include a feeling of control, a promotion of vocal fluency and movement, a decrease in aggressive and agitated behavior and an overall improvement in emotional, physical, mental and social function.

While the formal use of music therapies requires a credentialed professional, there is still the option of using music at home to help yourself and your loved ones. Doing something as simple as putting on some headphones and listening to a few of your favorite songs when your feeling stressed can make a world of difference. Many families have attested to the fact that their lives were changed and were given so much comfort when their loved one was able to sing along to an old song they used to know and love.

The research on music therapy and the assistance it can provide in helping those with degenerative cognitive disease is ongoing. Currently, studies are being done to see if the use of song can be used to help seniors learn and retain vital information and regain a regular daily routine. Regardless of the developments in music therapy, it’s clear that it is beneficial when it comes to resurfacing old memories, if only for a moment, and improving the quality of life of not only ourselves, but the people we love as well. So, in the meantime, engage your loved one by playing a song or a musical genre they’re fond of and watch them come back to life and enjoy the journey back to a time when you both were most happy.