Music therapy is a powerful tool to help seniors with dementia and memory loss. Music programs also boost the mood of seniors, build connections and help them connect with the world around them.

The Power of Music for Seniors in Nursing Homes

At any age, music can evoke powerful reactions in people.

Memory loss due to aging is a normal part of life, but for seniors in nursing homes, music can play an altogether different but very important role, especially for those suffering from dementia. Even if we don’t realize it, we’re often surrounded by some form of music. There are many reasons why music is used in advertisements, grocery stores, and elevators, but simply stated, it’s because music impacts mood. For seniors living with dementia and other memory-related challenges, research has shown that the impact of music upon memory can be incredibly significant.

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Just listening to music can be therapeutic. When music is used intentionally during therapy treatment, it can have incredibly positive results on recovery. Scientists and psychologists have been studying the use of music therapy for decades and there’s little doubt that it can be a powerful tool in the treatment process.

Everything from stress, anxiety, depression, pain management, relaxation, and the easing of muscle tension all see a positive impact from exposure to music therapy. As science continues to uncover the myriad of benefits music and music therapy has on healing the body and mind, the field of music influenced healthcare will continue to grow.

This also has strong implications as to the importance of music for seniors in nursing homes. Dementia and other forms of memory loss are among the most common and significant forms of pain and suffering for seniors and their families. It also requires specific and difficult care techniques for the healthcare staff at senior care facilities.

With science-backed research supporting the power of music and its influence on dementia and the brain, adding a coordinated music program to your senior care facility can make a huge difference. The results may surprise you.

The Research: Music and Memory

For many seniors and their families, adjusting to life in an assisted living home is already a difficult and emotionally trying reality. Though it may appear to be trivial upon first reflection, the power of music for seniors in nursing homes cannot be underestimated.

According to decades worth of research gathered and analyzed across multiple studies, there are certain activities that remain intact despite the level of brain impairment and severity of dementia. Pedaling a bike, dancing, enjoying music, or throwing a baseball are deeply embedded enough to remain, even if the person doing these activities no longer knows who you — or they — are. The categorization for these types of activities is called Procedural Memory, and research has shown that Procedural Memory tends to resist the ravages of dementia.

Musical perception, emotion, and memory can survive long after other types of memory and cognition related to events, knowledge, and reasoning have been destroyed due to dementia. Listening to music can improve mood, behavior, and sometimes even cognitive functioning, the effects of which can last for hours and even days after hearing the music.

There is a lot of research available, with more being uncovered all the time. But the main takeaway is that music improves emotion, mood, mobility, and a host of memory-related activities, no matter what age.

This is great news for those caring for seniors in nursing homes, the implications of which can be far-reaching. While not everyone suffers from dementia as they age, the power of music for seniors in nursing homes is well worth the effort.

Music and Dementia

The reality surrounding senior care facilities can be especially difficult for those who are struggling with the transition from independence to assisted living. As research continually demonstrates, the strategic use of music at your senior care facility can be life-altering. The fact that certain functioning and memory recall can be improved simply by playing the favorite music of a resident with dementia speaks for itself.

When a person suffering from dementia suddenly remembers a specific memory, can play the piano again, or simply smiles when hearing a familiar tune, their quality of life improves. For this resident’s family and friends, this can impact their time together immeasurably. A person may have difficulty speaking to their family but might be able to sing an entire song. This can help to bring the families closer together, despite the wedge of separation dementia can create.

Whether just getting started or working to improve an existing program, incorporating music at your senior care facility should be more than just an afterthought. A well thought out music program will benefit your residents and their families which, in turn, can help your staff and medical professionals to be more efficient and effective in the care they provide.

Your senior residents ultimately want to feel healthy, happy, and as normal as possible. The long-term care provided by nursing homes and other assisted living facilities is a complex challenge for everyone involved. The physical, mental, and medical needs of your residents can change at any given moment, creating new challenges that must be adapted to in a quick, efficient, and effective manner. Additionally, great care must be taken to preserve the dignity of those under your care — a critical factor in maintaining and improving the quality of people’s lives.

Helping your residents to feel comfortable, happy, and still engaged in the world is just as important as providing quality assistive care services.

A wide variety of daily activities need to be available to your senior residents, many of which can include, or even focus on, musical integration. No matter what event or activity is taking place, the inclusion of music can easily help improve the mood and overall vibe of the activity.


Your Music Program — Music Therapy in Nursing Homes

Music can impact the overall atmosphere of your senior care facility in so many positive ways.

Incorporating music therapy at your senior care facility can be integrated into nearly every facet of daily life. In many ways, this isn’t difficult to do either.

Interests and Taste

One of the first things you’ll want to do is to collect information from your residents and their families about their musical interests. Not only does genre matter, but also favorite songs and musicians. Just because a senior resident may have grown up during a certain time period doesn’t necessarily mean they enjoy the music of that era. It’s very likely that a person who grew up in the 1940s might really love reggae music from the 1970s. Or perhaps they like Top 40 hits of today.

Surveying your residents and their families is a great way to start, but it’s also important to experiment as well. Some of your residents with dementia may be suffering from a more advanced stage of the disease and are unable to communicate their interests. It may be difficult to figure out what they like but the extra effort will be well worth it.

Musicians and Instruments

Many people have played instruments during their younger years and some may even have been well-trained musicians. With research-backed support showing that musical memory is related to Procedural Memory, a person suffering from dementia may be able to communicate and express themselves while playing an instrument in ways they are currently challenged by memory-related diseases.

Knowledge of a resident’s former musical background should be incorporated into your program. By making common instruments such as the piano and guitar available for anyone to use, you’ll encourage residents and their families to sit down and play a few tunes. Be sure to provide sheet music wherever there’s a playable instrument to help encourage people as well. The positive effects that the presence of musical instruments can have at your nursing home is exponential.

Music-Themed Events

From sock-hops to impersonator Elvis, youth marching bands, or karaoke nights, incorporating music-themed events is another great way to entertain and encourage your nursing home residents. By using the knowledge gained from surveying your residents, these events and senior services can be a fun way to engage your senior residents. And for those suffering from dementia and other memory-related difficulties, events such as these can be an extremely effective primer for memory, physical activity, and of course, improving mood and behavior.

There are many services available across a wide spectrum of event types and solutions. There are even services that can connect your senior care home with specific solutions based on an assessment of your community needs.

Music Everywhere

With the right planning and foresight, your staff can ensure that there is music playing for nearly every occasion. Specific playlists can be made and played if there’s an overhead music/speaker system. Music can accompany almost any event or activity, during dining hours, artistic expression sessions, gaming events, and even just as an “atmospheric background.”

The thing to remember is that music played in the background shouldn’t be an afterthought. It should incorporate resident interests and favorites. You can even make it interactive and include a “music listening hour” each day, where residents can make specific requests that are played for everyone’s listening pleasure.

The Joy of Music

Without a doubt, music provides joy for people of any age. Despite the difficulties of memory-related challenges, music can still be enjoyed by people suffering from these degenerative diseases. For those living at your senior care facility, music can make an incredible difference in the quality of life and mental health of everyone.

Playing music works to improve the mood of your residents, which can influence their behavior. When people enjoy the music they are listening to, it can reduce stress and anxiety, reduce pain, and even help to get them up and moving around more.

If your nursing home senior care facility doesn’t have a strategic music program yet, it’s never too late to begin. There are many easy and effective ways to get started and plenty of services available to help you create a more pleasant, positive, and healthy environment for the senior residents in your care.



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