As a therapeutic tool, music has endless benefits, especially for older adults and those living in memory care communities who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. From stimulating the brain to enhancing memory, there are many reasons why more and more caregivers are turning to music therapy to enhance a loved one’s life on a day-to-day basis. In this blog we’re going to be breaking down some of the science behind music therapy, its mind-boosting benefits and its ability to help those living with depression find happiness on gloomy days.
The Science Behind Music Therapy
Music has been used for thousands of years in communities and civilizations all around the world to help people heal and socialize. Here in the United States music therapy has continued to gain in popularity since the end of World War II when medical professionals noticed music’s ability to help those with physical and emotional trauma post-combat. Music can evoke a large range of emotions from joy and elation to excitement and relaxation. Music can also be used in times of remembrance of loved ones who are no longer with us. There are two specific hormones that are released in the body when one listens to music:
Known as a feel-good chemical, dopamine increases the pleasure receptors in our body when released. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s released in the body when we are expecting a reward. Eating, exercising and sleeping can release dopamine in the body as well as listening to music. In short, dopamine helps us feel good and is a natural result of participating in an activity that makes us feel good. Even thinking about your favorite song can result in the release of dopamine within your brain. If you want to discover other natural ways to up your dopamine levels check out this article that references music specifically.
When endorphins are released in the body we often are flushed with a sense of euphoria and well-being. Scientists have discovered that listening to and creating music results in the release of endorphins.
According to Alan Turry, managing director of the Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy at New York University, “Music is a way to bypass our rational side and to get in touch with the emotional life we often keep hidden…If people are having trouble, there’s usually a way that music can help.”
Music Therapy & Mental Health Benefits
According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) music therapy interventions with trained professionals can address a variety of healthcare goals. Music therapy can:
-Promote Physical Rehabilitation
If you or a loved one is living with psychosocial, affective, cognitive or communicative needs associated with mental health it may be time to look into music therapy. Research conducted by the AMTA has found that music therapy is especially beneficial for those who are “resistive to other treatment approaches.” This doesn’t mean that music therapy should be a last resort. In fact, it’s suggested that music therapy be used in conjunction with other types of therapy that address mental health concerns like depression.
Often when we are unable to express certain feelings or emotions through words, music therapy can offer another avenue for making our feelings known. For older adults who may have lost the ability to communicate as effectively as they once did, music therapy can be a wonderful and effective resource for expressing feelings and managing stress. Making music, listening to music and discussing music are three ways that you can work with a loved one to reach their healthcare goals.
Combatting Depression With Music Therapy
The following outcomes have been documented in music therapy research:
-Reduced Muscle Tension
-Improved Self-image/Increased Self-esteem
-Enhanced Interpersonal Relationships
-Improved Group Cohesiveness
-Successful and Safe Emotional Release
Many of the above listed outcomes also work in tandem to reduce feelings of sadness and depression. When a loved one can reduce tension in the body, decrease their levels of anxiety and agitation and enhance their interpersonal relationships they are taking steps to decrease depression.
If you are unable to access or hire a professional music therapist you can still listen to music, make music or discuss music with a loved one.
In a recent blog, Music Therapy, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, we offer a few ideas for making affordable instruments at home with common household items. Playing an instrument, even if you have no formal training or experience, can offer great reprieve from daily stressors that older adults face. Plus, this is a great activity for the whole family, grandchildren or a senior group.