Music Therapy

Did you know that music therapy has been used to treat people of all ages to overcome symptoms of depression, anxiety and loneliness for a number of years?  However, after recent scientific research was conducted on its benefits, music therapy has seen a huge increase in popularity with older people, especially those suffering with dementia.

Music has been proven to be more beneficial for older people than previously thought. Whether it be listening to the smooth, soft tones of Jazz or winding down with classical notes, music can improve the quality of life of older people in numerous ways.

Barbara Else, senior advisor of policy and research at the American Music Therapy Association, explains: “We have such a deep connection to music because it is ‘hardwired’ in our brains and bodies. The elements of music – rhythm, melody, etc. – are echoed in our physiology, functioning and being.”

Below are just some of the reasons as to why people are turning to music as a form of therapy for the mind and body.

The benefits of music for the mind

Music has evolved over the decades to provide different genres and niches to cater for social development. However, it isn’t uncommon to find older people still listening to the music that takes them back to their childhood, bringing nostalgia and a sense of youth into the present day. This is a perfect example of what music can do for the mind. As well as social affiliation and the feeling of being a part of a community, the pleasure and arousal from hearing the type of music in question, whether it be soft jazz, ballroom or war time music, brings about a positive change psychologically over a period of time.

The British Association for Music Therapy says: “Music is something that we can all relate to regardless of age, and is often central to a person’s sense of identity. It provides us with ways to connect and share feeling, memories and moments with others, and offers stimulation and encourages expression. Music therapy can also enhance exploratory and creative abilities, as well as foster self-esteem and the sense of feeling valued and heard.

“Music therapists work with older adults to support their emotional, psychological and social wellbeing. For a person with dementia, this might mean helping them to connect with their family through shared music making, helping them to feel valued and heard.”

“In addition, it may have a role in helping people manage a wide range of health issues, including mental health challenges and physical health problems associated with chronic respiratory illness and Parkinson’s [disease]. It is clear also that singing activity can positively engage people with dementia across a spectrum of severity from mild to late-stage.”

“Music therapy is like food for the soul. It can bring joy to the heart and fresh air to the lungs. Singing songs and letting rhythm move both body and mind to better health and happiness is a therapy that is free!”

“According to a recent analysis of 400 published scientific papers, the old adage that “music is medicine” may literally be true. The neurochemical benefits of music can boost the body’s immune system, reduce anxiety, and help regulate mood.

The benefits of music for the body

Whether it be ballroom, salsa, the fox trot or new age hip-hop, the benefits of music for the body are endless! Combining the positive effects of exercise through dancing, as well as the psychological enhancements by listening to music you, in a sense, have a combination more powerful than any other therapy. For those older adults with reduced mobility, the fun and enjoyment can still be experienced by tapping away to the rhythm of the beat.

Music can alter an individual’s mood for the better.  “It has been found that even such minimal movement as tapping a foot or clapping hands is enough activity to release pent-up mental and physical stress, and bring a little joy into the room. For many Older People who are able, dancing to music is a wonderful way to exercise. Being swept into the rhythm of music can lower blood pressure and stimulate organs in the body.”

If you want to try exercise or movement with an older person, find out what their favourite genre of music is, or favourite artist. We all love to dance to our favourite songs or singers, so make sure you choose to fit your audience. Always make sure to take care and assist older people, as they may not be able to do things they could have done when they were younger, so perhaps keep your exercises chair-based, or support them if they want to stand.

“Even just singing along to a fast-paced song can help to raise the heart rate, encourage faster breathing and stimulate the brain. Music is magic and we recommend it every day.”


This blog article was originally published by Handicare UK.

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