You don’t have to be a musician or even a music lover to experience what it feels like when you hear a tune that immediately takes you back to a moment in time — in fact, this is the reaction eldercare experts count on when introducing music into the daily lives of the aging population.
Music helps evoke a memory, but also restores certain skills that have been lost. Music also works to ease anxiety and other common issues that often come with aging and dementia.
Introducing Tunes to Loved Ones
“The key is finding the right music for the listener,” says Jean Wendland, director of rehabilitation at Century Oak Care Center in Cleveland.
Experts advise home caregivers to introduce music every day for 20 minutes. Some people will have an immediate and positive reaction, while with others it may take some time.
“We have seen how creating a personal playlist for a resident has made all the difference and reduced or even removed some medications and calmed anxiety and fear,” Wendland says and adds once that person puts on the headphones, most people quickly have that positive reaction.
“We ask for help from families to find the right music for the resident,” Wendland says. “(We ask) When did they grow up? Who were their favorite singers? And so on. One woman at Century Oak was refusing to eat, and once we played some Glenn Miller Orchestra music for her, she responded by sitting up and eating.”
Managing Stress With Music
Many caregivers have trouble easing anxiety and managing aggressive behaviors. Coro Health MusicFirst is a program that Maple Wood Care Center in Streetsboro uses to help with these issues.
“The program wants to know what behaviors you need help with, such as relaxation, sleeping, more energy or ability to focus,” says Nicole Trucker, program coordinator at Maple Wood Care Center. “Then you move into your favorite music genre: country, classical, spiritual, and they set up a playlist for you. It’s that simple and you can even do it from your phone, so it’s portable for a home caregiver.”
She adds, “We use the music to support activities like playing games that need more concentration, in the hair salon for better cooperation and relaxation, at meal times to stimulate appetites and in the evening.”
Mary Jo McGuire of Occupational Therapists in Private Practice in Akron has seen the power of music with aging clients firsthand.
“We teach our therapists who go into the home to utilize whatever strategy is meaningful to the individual,” McGuire says. “One client was exhibiting very aggressive behaviors. We discovered that music had been a large part of his life. He was a musician, served in the military and even met his wife at Carnegie Hall.”
The therapist for this gentleman got some headphones, downloaded music from his era and included patriotic songs and he became calm and able to function much better, McGuire says.
Over and over again, similar outcomes are described when music is introduced into the daily routines of aging adults. Music has been found to activate certain neurological pathways in the brain that have long been neglected.
Once familiar music is re-introduced, those pathways are engaged, memories return and many people are able to function better and enjoy life more. If a little music can improve the quality of life for an aging loved one, then let the music play on.