Music Therapy for Seniors: Does It Work?

By Michelle Cemental

An elderly patient suffering from Alzheimer's just received a diagnosis that their blood pressure has become elevated. Prescription: Medication and music. Music? For high blood pressure? Music, while it is not a prescription that is being handed to many people from their physician, may just be worth exploring in addition to the prescribed treatment. Let's take a closer look!

What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is essentially listening to or playing music with the purpose of helping a patient achieve a specific goal — physical, cognitive, social, or emotional. These goals could include like reduced stress or better sleeping. Better yet, they could be to address depression, anxiety, memory loss, and other symptoms of aging. 

Does It Work?

The therapeutic power of music has been and continues to be explored. Dr. Oliver Sack's book and adapted movie, Awakenings, focused on 80 patients who suffered from a sleeping sickness that left them frozen for decades; however, when the right music was played, they would begin to move.

With much more research done since the early 70s, music has proved to help with diagnoses from patients with autism, anxiety, and Alzheimer's to heart conditions and strokes. Music therapy has been so successful, in fact, the treatment technique has acquired more of a professional outlook and has led many universities to adopt degrees for education in this field.

Today it would seem as if there is not a disease in which music therapy could not be an additional treatment; after all, everyone has access to it!

But let's refer to the science behind music therapy to get a better understanding. 

Scientific Backing

Dr. Sacks to Stanford University to the Music Therapy Institute in Germany has consistently seen favorable results. Time and time again, participants in the studies perform significantly better than participants who do not listen to music while facing the same ailment, diagnosis or situation.

What they do know is that the hormone serotonin is increased when listening to music, and serotonin helps the organs in our body carry out their normal functions. They also know that music effects sub-cortical areas of the brain and modulates the brain's limbic system that triggers numerous neurochemical effects, which in turn affect the body in a variety of ways.

As research scientists continue to unravel the mystery, we do know that the universal responsiveness to music is an essential part of our neural nature and that, by turning on the radio, you can elicit a series of feelings depending on what kind of music is being played!

As you care for a senior, take a moment to ask what their favorite kind of music is and take note. You never know what could happen! Perhaps you will see your father who suffers from Alzheimer's or your mother who has suffered a stroke begin singing the words to a song.

Such acts would seem impractical and miraculous as their ability to remember or communicate has been impaired; however, these are the results that researchers continue to record and which prompts further scientific studies. So turn up the radio! Get a keyboard. Hand your parents some tambourines, and have a great time listening and making music. It could just be the sweetest sound you'll hear!

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Tags: Alzheimer's & Dementia, Senior Health