Healing Harmonies: Music as Medicine for Seniors and Caregivers

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Healing Harmonies: Music as Medicine for Seniors and Caregivers

Human beings are governed by rhythms. They influence our heartbeat, the cadence of our speech, and even when we fall asleep and wake up. Perhaps this is why we are so mesmerized by music.

“From lullabies to funeral songs, music is a part of our lives from the moment we enter the world until the moment we leave it,” says Diane Snyder-Cowan, director of the Elisabeth Prentiss Bereavement Center for Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.

In her work, she uses a phenomenon called “entrainment,” whereby a person’s biological rhythms become synchronized with the music they’re listening to. Entrainment exerts such a powerful force that simply listening to and focusing on soothing music can help a person enter a more relaxed state of physical and mental functioning. Once a person enters this state, they’re better able to physically and mentally process things, from medications to emotions.

Snyder-Cowan is a professional music therapist and part of a specially-trained group of care providers who use melodies to achieve treatment goals. “This type of therapy is all about the intentional use of music to bring about a particular change; whether that change is therapeutic, emotional or spiritual,” she says.

Harnessing the Healing Power of Music at Home 

You don’t have to be formally trained to help your loved one enjoy the holistic benefits of music. While live music offers a richer and more personalized experience for listeners, recorded music can still be of value. Snyder-Cowan offers some suggestions for how caregivers and their loved ones can bond over song from the comfort of home:

  • Make your own music. If you or your loved one had a passion for playing an instrument, don’t hesitate to dust off the old six-string and strum out a few chords. “Live music has its own set of special rewards,” says Snyder-Cowan.
  • Travel to another time or place. Music and memory are intimately intertwined. To help your loved one get in touch with their past, try playing music that was popular when they were in their twenties and thirties.
  • Match tempo and temper. No one genre of music is more therapeutic than another. According to Snyder-Cowan, it’s all about personal preference. Pick songs that you and your loved one enjoy listening to. Keeping the principal of entrainment in mind, try to align the songs with the mood you’re trying to promote.
  • Highlight hobbies. For example, your loved one may not be able to dress up and visit the opera like they used to, but that doesn’t mean they have to forgo their favorite arias. You can help bring the opera to them by purchasing or downloading some of their favorite performances and playing them. The same goes for any genre of music they enjoy or that applies to other hobbies they loved, like dancing or playing a specific instrument.


Source: Anne-Marie Botek, www.AgingCare.com