Many of us have spoken about the benefits of music with common sayings such as “Music is the universal language” or “Music soothes the soul.” Anyone who enjoys listening to music can testify that music can make you feel good!
As we age, engaging in musical activities can also help keep our brains as healthy as possible. Music neuroscientists have been studying the effect of music on the brain for decades and their work has helped us to learn exactly how and why music can help. Let’s investigate a few of the ways that we can see music working in our lives.
Music and memory: Music is a very robust stimulus for our brains! Individuals in the late stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia often forget the names of their loved ones, yet they typically still remember music that they like. In these situations, music that is specifically chosen for that individual can give loved ones a way to have a meaningful connection when their loved one has limited ability to interact. We can often see people who don’t usually speak or remember things from their past suddenly singing along to favorite songs from long ago. Neuroscience research has helped us to understand that this is possible because areas of the brain that process musical memory may be some of the last areas of the brain to degenerate during the disease process.
Music and movement: Some of us may hear an upbeat song and naturally start tapping our toes. Music, or more specifically, rhythm is processed in the areas of our brain that are also responsible for motor movement. So, rhythm can naturally make us want to move! Research shows that people often exercise longer and put in more effort when they exercise with music. Exercise is an important activity for healthy aging and adding some music can maximize the physical benefits you get from exercise while making it feel like less effort.
Music and well-being: You may have seen one of the stories in the media about the benefits of singing in a choir. Choirs, bands and other music-making groups offer a meaningful way to engage in a healthy activity while also creating social bonds that are important for our overall well-being. Community music groups can offer an opportunity for people of all ability levels to get involved.
Making music uses many different parts of our brain, and studies show that musicians seem to be somewhat protected from the natural cognitive decline that can come with aging, possibly due to the benefits of making music.
If you are looking for activities that can help to keep you healthy as you age, consider including music listening or music making in your regular routine.
Sarah Thompson, MM, MT-BC, CBIS is the founder and CEO of Rehabilitative Rhythms. She has worked as a board-certified music therapist for 15 years. She collaborates with her staff of six music therapists to bring music therapy and music making to the Denver area. For more information, visit DenverMusicTherapy.com or call 303-481-8134.
This column is hosted by the Seniors’ Council of Douglas County. Please join us for our next meeting on Aug. 1 at West Douglas County Fire Protection District, Station #4, 4037 Platte Ave., Sedalia, 80135. Our presentation and community conversation will begin at 10:15 a.m. Karie Erickson, executive director of Aging Resources of Douglas County (formerly Neighbor Network), will share how this organization has evolved and expanded its services to ensure that the county’s older adults can remain independent for as long as safely possible. For more information, go online to MyDougCoSeniorLife.com, email DCSeniorLife@douglas.co.us or call 303-663-7681.
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