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Music can improve older people’s quality of life in a variety of ways, including by reducing anxiety and stress. In these challenging times, it’s a powerful way to help yourself or your loved one relax.
Music is good for the mind – and the body
We live in anxious times, and it’s understandable for seniors to feel more worried and isolated than usual. Listening to or playing music is one way to cope.
Music is a surprisingly powerful tool, with a wide range of both physical and mental benefits. These range from reducing anxiety, pain and blood pressure to improving mood, mental alertness, memory and the quality of sleep. Studies have shown that listening to music (of the person’s choice) can prevent increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure, and can also reduce cortisol levels, all of which are biological markers of stress.
Performing music can also have a calming effect. Studies of adult choir singers have found that choristers’ breathing and heart rates synchronise as they perform the same piece of music, helping them relax. And music therapy provides particular comfort and relief to those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia: some people remember the lyrics to their favourite songs long after they have forgotten their loved ones’ names. In other cases, the impact of listening to music has been found to be more significant than that of taking medication.
Among older people, music:
Improves cognition and speech
Dispels anxiety, tension, and fear
Provides motivation for walking, running, dancing, and stretching
Increases coordination and mobility
Encourages social interaction
Reduces pain (both chronic and acute) and recovery time
Improve the quality of sleep
Assists in memory recall
Provides a communicative structure
Integrating music into your or your loved one’s life
There are many ways in which you or your loved one can reap the benefits of music.
And they are accessible to almost everyone – even seniors who find it difficult to move can still enjoy and sing along to music.
Some ideas include:
- Simply listening to a favourite recording or playing an instrument in the privacy of your home or assisted living apartment;
- Attending or taking your loved one to a live concert;
- Taking music or dance lessons;
- Having a sing-along to a popular, lively song, something which also helps people interact and promotes a sense of community
- Watching performances of your favourite artists on YouTube – ask your family to show you how it works if you haven’t used it before!
Assisted living facilities such as Les Jardins de Chantenay will usually offer a range of organised musical activities and music therapy.
A few things to keep in mind
It often helps to play music that is easy to listen, dance or sing along to. But above all, music is most powerful when the people listening to it – or playing it – truly enjoy it, so make sure to play your or your loved one’s favourite songs. Assisted living residences will try to alternate musicians and genres to ensure that everyone has a good time.
It’s also important to keep in mind that music triggers emotions, and that these are not always positive. You or your loved one may respond to certain pieces of music with sorrow. Families and caregivers should therefore be prepared to support, empathise with and console loved ones for whom a song stirs up sad memories.
Finding the right songs and activities for you or your loved one may take some trial and error. Ultimately, however, it is a simple and effective way of improving older people’s quality of life, and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about and bond with your family member.