Music Therapy Activities
Recent research is confirming what caregivers have known for centuries: Music holds incredible power to heal, transform, and inspire. A March 2014 study by the Alzheimer Society of Toronto’s iPod Project found that benefits of music and music therapy include “improved cognition, communication, and quality of life for older persons with ADOD [Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia]” as well as “an improved ability to manage behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) such as depression, anxiety, agitation, and aggression.” Pretty impressive results for something that seems so simple!
Benefits of Music Therapy
So how does it work? Experts explain that listening to music exercises our brain in the same way that physical therapy can exercise other muscles in the body, strengthening it and building pathways and patterns that lead to improved function. It can also reduce pain, lower heart rate and blood pressure, accelerate healing, and improve neurological function. Music impacts social skills too, boosting learning, increasing social interaction, and reducing anxiety, AARP finds.
The positive effects of music can be seen across age ranges, ailments, and severity of illness, helping people with everything from Parkinson’s to depression to autism. Another study of Alzheimer’s patients found that after receiving one hour of personalized music therapy, three times a week, for ten months, 45 patients with mid- to late-stage dementia improved their scores on a cognitive function test by 50% on average.
6 Music Therapy Ideas for Caregivers
As a caregiver, there are several ways that you can use music to benefit your patients or loved ones. They include:
1. Play music to inspire happy memories.
Find out what songs or artists carry strong positive associations, and play those tunes for your loved one by creating a dementia playlist. It may be music from their youth, songs they used to dance to, or the soundtrack from a special moment in their lives like a wedding.
2. Use music to influence mood.
Playing music that evokes happy memories, as mentioned above, is a great way to improve someone’s mood. But music can also be used to calm or soothe, or conversely, to create energy and enthusiasm for undertaking new activities.
3. Connect with younger people through music.
Music can cross all boundaries, including age. Ask younger family members, friends, or staff members what they’re listening to, and use the conversation to engage with your aging loved one. Sharing favorite songs can be a fun way to talk about culture, technology, or just find something new to listen to!
4. Make music together.
If your loved one is so inclined, consider making music! This may include simply singing along to an old favorite, drumming on the coffee table, or reinvigorating an existing skill like playing the piano. Many senior centers and communities have active choirs that provide wonderful opportunities to meet new people and make music an ongoing part of your loved one’s life.
5. Share your favorite music.
Music is incredibly impactful to caregivers as well as patients. Share your favorite tunes with your loved one. Sing along while you’re doing chores, tell stories about the memories that your music invokes, or find other ways to connect through the music that makes you happy.
6. Enlist a professional.
Professional music therapists can go beyond singing in the kitchen or choir to create a personalized program tailored to your loved one’s needs. The American Music Therapy Association is a great place to start for more information about what music therapists do, and to browse listings of music therapy professionals in your area.
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