• Julie Katz

The amazing power of music for the elderly

Music can help more than medicine

When my grandmother had significant Alzheimer's we were drinking soup. She said to my mother, "Your cake is delicious." After dinner a relative who had been a professional violinist played for us. He didn't mention the composer, but at the end of the piece, my grandmother who had enjoyed going to the symphony said, "I love Tchaikovsky." At the time we couldn't figure out how she could confuse two very different foods but could recognize the name of a composer just from the music. Now science knows why.

The part of the brain that stores music is, for some reason, protected from the ravishes of dementia. In fact, when almost all other functions leave a person, response to music remains. But music doesn't only produce toe-tapping, its effects can be work when medicines do not.

Music has been shown to help lower agitation in people with dementia. Playing music, especially music they loved from their past, can calm dementia sufferers down enough to be given a bath or stop screaming. Music can help people remember people, times and places. People can go from virtually non-verbal to discussing their past when music is played. Playing an instrument in our later years can reduce the decline of dementia.

In elderly without dementia, music can alleviate depression, help you heal from strokes and lower cortisol levels in those recovering from a heart attack. Music for those in hospice can bring comfort.

While music therapist are trained to play music as therapy, anyone can sing or play music and it will be beneficial. Don't worry that your voice won't be good enough, it doesn't matter, the response will be elicited despite the quality of your voice.

Watch this heartwarming video about Henry who has severe dementia. Hearing music restores his language even when the music is turned off. I'm still teary-eyed.

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