Greater Peoria Metro Area, IL

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Seniors Can Reap Big Medical Benefits from Familiar Music

 Lutheran Hillside Village August 06, 2014
Submitted by Lutheran Hillside Village

Frances Milazzo is a karaoke fiend. “I love to sing ‘That’s Amore’,” she says, enunciating the name of the song with a thick Italian accent. “I like it because it’s lively and everybody gets into it.”

Now in her 90s, Frances still can’t get enough of the songs from her youth. That’s why, whenever she can, she takes part in the seniors-only karaoke nights near her apartment.

“When my daughter I go over to karaoke, she said, ‘Oh mother! You don’t sing, do you?’” But that’s exactly what Frances does, and she brings the house down with her Frank Sinatra covers. “Hey, we aren’t going to hear Luciano Pavarotti,” she says, “but we sing all the songs everybody knows, and we have just a wonderful time.”

“It would be hard to overstate how important music is for older adults,” says Connie Hillier, activities director for Lutheran Hillside Village. Connie has the pleasure of coordinating the piano players for sing-alongs at the senior living community’s weekly happy hour gatherings.

“That’s true even if you only talk about the social aspects of music,” she says. “Those songs from their generation, that’s something all of our residents share, and it makes it easier for them to connect with one another.” For seniors, isolation can too easily lead to depression, and depression can lead to any number of health issues. So any opportunity to bring people together is a welcome one.

But increasingly, scientists are finding more direct medical benefits to listening to music, especially when it comes to older adults.

The most visible example of this comes through music therapy programs. These programs can take many forms; some, like the nationally recognized Java Music Club, put musical instruments in the hands of older adults and ask them to help collaborate on performing simple songs. The benefits of this approach include cognitive stimulation, socialization, and, with some coaching by the therapists, some light emotional catharsis.

Another form of therapy involves simply playing songs from a person’s past. As an example: the filmmakers of the 2012 documentary “Alive Inside” presented the residents of a skilled nursing community with iPods filled with songs from their youth. The resulting transformations were often startling — residents who previously were disengaged from their surroundings would begin to regain energy and enthusiasm and show greater signs of cognitive function.

In the documentary, one of the residents named Henry was identified as spending much of his time slumped over in his chair, unable to answer questions beyond simple yes-and-no inquiries. Almost immediately after being exposed to familiar music, Henry became more animated and responsive. “It gives me the feeling of love, of romance,” Henry was quoted as saying. “I figure right now the world needs to come into music, singing.”

But music isn’t only medically helpful to seniors in long-term care situations. A growing body of research indicates that a workout routine set to music can lead to better balance and lower risk of falls. Seemingly, the key to this phenomenon is rhythm; helping seniors maintain a sense of rhythm helps regulate one’s gait and improve their manual dexterity.

And if you’re a musician yourself, the news gets even better. Years of research have shown that learning to play an instrument can have cognitive benefits for developing children. But a 2011 study published in the journal “Neuropsychology” holds that those individuals who learned to play the piano as children and kept practicing through their adult years were less likely to exhibit declines in mental ability or develop degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

So if you’ve noticed the house is too quiet lately, turn on the radio, cue up a CD, dust off the record player, or visit Pandora.com on your computer. A happy tune might just be what the doctor ordered.

For 50 years, Lutheran Hillside Village has been the premier resource for older adults and their families in the Peoria area. To learn more about all the ways we help older adults live life to the fullest, call Ellyn at 309-692-4600 or visit LutheranHillsideVillage.org. Back to Top

 Lutheran Hillside Village| August 06, 2014

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