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What is music therapy and how can it benefit older generations?


Growing up back in the 40s, 50s and 60s was vastly different to how people grow up nowadays. With no social media or access to their friends and family’s virtual lives 24/7, more time was spent valuing real-life encounters and relationships. One of the ways in which people used to socialise back then was to go to local dances together, in order to have a good time and often meet a potential future partner. However, people would gather at such venues for one thing over everything else: A collective love of music.

According to the British Geriatrics Society, evidence shows that four in ten older people living in nursing homes in England are depressed. One way to combat depression in older people is with a technique called music therapy.

The British Association for Music Therapy explains: “Everyone has the ability to respond to music, and music therapy uses this connection to facilitate positive changes in emotional wellbeing and communication through the engagement in live musical interaction between client and therapist. It can help develop and facilitate communication skills, improve self-confidence and independence, enhance self-awareness and awareness of others, improve concentration and attention skills.”

More specifically, music therapy can be a brilliant aid for those living with dementia. An article published by the NHS describes music and memory as powerful connectors. “Music lights up emotional memories – everyone remembers songs from their past – the first kiss, the song at a wedding, seeing their parents dance and we often use music to remember people at funerals.

“Music can have many benefits in the setting of dementia. It can help reduce anxiety and depression, help maintain speech and language, is helpful at the end of life, enhances quality of life and has a positive impact on carers.”

According to Aging Care, music is particularly beneficial for people struggling with memory loss “because it’s easier for them to access the memory of a melody than to recall a person’s name or a past event. ‘The memory of the song stays with them much longer than regular memories’”, says Snyder-Cowan, director of the Elisabeth Prentiss Bereavement Center for Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio.

The elderly often fall into the routine of not being as active as they should be if they find that they are stuck indoors a lot and can become demotivated by feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression. The NHS states that many adults aged 65 and over spend, on average, 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary age group.

However, there is some hope. It is a well known that regular exercise has been scientifically proven to delay the effects of ageing on the body, and introducing music therapy can encourage older people to get up and moving to their favourite songs. Regular exercise can lower the risk of getting heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression and dementia.

In an article published by Age UK Mobility, Retire at Home comments: “It has been found that even such minimal movement as tapping a foot or clapping hands is enough activity to release pent-up mental and physical stress, and bring a little joy into the room. For many seniors who are able, dancing to music is a wonderful way to exercise. Being swept into the rhythm of music can lower blood pressure and stimulate organs in the body.”

Music therapy can also encourage social interaction between lonely, older generations. As we mentioned in the introduction, dancing is how many used to socialise years ago, and so introducing music therapy can be nostalgic for lots of older people, a joy which they can all share together. Music therapy can initiate dancing, laughter and sharing stories – all being great ways to communicate and to keep the brain ticking.

The website of Bethany Village explains that music is known to bring people together. “In music therapy programs, older adults are encouraged to communicate and connect with other members of their group, often making new friends in the process. The social aspect of music therapy helps seniors alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.”

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