Like what? The Montreal Neurological Institute has found that music activates the pleasure centres of our brains. Translate that into the context of senior care, and additional research suggests listening to or singing songs can provide real emotional and behavioural benefits for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Music training sessions have even been shown to help the elderly control symptoms of depression, delay the deterioration of cognitive function, and enhance the kind of brain function that underpins our ability to detect – and respond to – other people’s emotions.
That sings loudly to the case for more music for all, including seniors. If you’re looking for ways to help a loved one stay positive and feel good this summer, particularly as social distancing measures continue to keep many of us apart, music may be a great resource for your toolkit.
Have you considered building out a shared playlist together? Starting from your loved one’s musical tastes, work with the technology they’re comfortable with to cultivate the ultimate summertime song sheet. Sharing it amongst family members can help folks connect remotely, start conversations, and spread love while singing along from far away. Getting the next generation (think grandkids, or great-grandkids) involved in picking the tunes can help everyone feel more together even as we’re apart.
Same goes for combining music and movement. If you’re encouraging someone to stay active at home, getting the soundtrack right is key. Why not tag a chair-based exercise activity or gentle stretching routine to a particular song, and use the music as motivation to keep going?
As much as music can set the tone for activity, it can also be a calming force or way to wind down before meals and evening routines. Whether you’re working with a Bluetooth speaker, a vintage record player, a CD player or even just the radio: finding an album or station that plays classical music offers a range of benefits. Mozart and Strauss have been shown to lower the listener’s blood pressure, an ideal way to foster calmness in a world that’s anything but. You might consider combining their care with your own, and listening in remotely over Facetime or Zoom.
If you’re going to bring more music into a senior’s life, making it a consistent touchpoint can be as important as the music itself. One study of older adults showed that participating in a regular choir practice helped people feel less lonely and more interested in life after six months. But it wasn’t just the singing that made the impact. The benefit of regular, structured activity was the important factor. Is there room to carve out 10 minutes a day to sing together, or listen to a new song? Building that small but regular element into someone’s routine can open up a world of possibility.
Like everything, customizing the way you incorporate music to your loved one’s personality, capability, capacity and medical needs is really important. If you’re going to integrate more music into someone’s daily life, eliminate competing noise. Anyone can become overstimulated with too much going on at once. You can set the stage for success with music by blocking out distractions like the TV, getting the volume right for someone’s hearing level, and opting for music that avoids commercials (they can create confusion by bursting into the scene suddenly).
Getting music right also means adjusting course in real time. Pay attention to the way someone responds; it’s a good indicator of how things are going, and whether you might need to switch things up. If you notice someone’s enjoying a particular kind of music, go with it. But, also keep an eye out for red flags. Negative reactions to a given song choice, or kind of music, can mean it’s time to try something new.
Many of us may feel like we’re singing in the rain right now, and that’s okay. Keeping spirits up can be challenging, even without social distancing and the feelings of isolation it can bring. The important thing is that we keep on moving, and music can play a real part in the process.