Bathing in Music, It’s Good for the Mind and Soul

singing2Have you listened to music lately? Do you have songs that touch you in a certain way? Is there music that takes you back to your childhood or your youth?

I recently attended a California Association of Nursing Facilities Conference in Southern California that brought home the importance of music. The conference offered a number of educational sessions on person- centered care. For me, the most intriguing discussion was about music.

Sierra View Homes has always recognized the value of live music entertainment, but the newer studies focused on the individual listening to a personal play list of songs. Oliver Wendell Holmes once said “take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons. You will find it is to the soul what a water bath is to the body.” Music activates many parts of the brain.

In one of the sessions we watched the documentary “Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory.” The documentary is about what Dan Cohen, a volunteer in a nursing home in greater New York, found as he gave each person the chance to listen to music that touched them when they were much younger. He took iPod Shuffles and set out to make personal play lists for each person in the nursing home. The play list had to be specific to the person’s preferences. Great pains were taken to get specific songs or specific artists for the nursing home resident to be able to identify.

What happened when most of the residents listened to their particular play list was nothing short of remarkable. Through the documentary you see people, who because of dementia have not communicated in years, respond to their music. The documentary showed music successfully calming residents who had extreme agitation or were in great pain. Residents with dementia responded by becoming more alert and communicative. Those who were alert and oriented enjoyed sharing the memories the music brought them.

Check out an excerpt from this remarkable film. Isn’t it wonderful how Henry’s face lights up?

Music is profoundly linked to personal memories. In fact, our brains are hard-wired to connect music with long-term memory. For people with dementia, music can connect those long-term memories that could give a sense of peace and tranquility. A person with dementia looses the short-term memories first leaving the long-term memory intact for a longer period of time.

Studies are showing that music often calms chaotic brain activity and enables the listener to focus on the present moment and regain connection to others. The brain uses many areas to process music. These parts are slow to be damaged by dementia or other chaotic brain activity. Henry, in the documentary, was an example of that. He “woke up” when he listened to his personal play list of music and was able to communicate appropriately immediately after his music stopped. After a time, he would slip back into a slumped over non-communicating self. When the music is played again he becomes animated and verbal often singing along and enjoying his music. When the documentary was made, Henry had been listening to his play list for four years. He had the same response every time he listened. In the documentary his daughter is thrilled her father responds so well to the music because their family time was enhanced and she feels connected to her father.

Indeed, Sierra View Homes is already aware that music can be a very positive experience for our residents. There are many live performances that happen every month. We are now in the process of acquiring iPod Shuffles and the activity staff is busy working on making personal play lists. I am excited to see the music work with residents who currently are restless and uncomfortable either from dementia or something else. Music has the potential to reduce pain, calm those who are easily agitated, bring back memories of the good-old days and give pleasure.

Personalized music may not work for everyone, but studies show that it will help improve the quality of life for most. Trying it has no adverse side effects. I am looking forward to what the outcome will be for the residents of Sierra View Homes!