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The Benefits of Music Therapy for Seniors

Regardless of our age or background, each of us has fond memories formed around our favorite songs. From singing in the back of our parents’ cars to waltzing across the dance floor at our own kids’ weddings, music is a constant companion throughout our lives. We all possess an intuitive understanding of the power of music — but did you know these daily melodies are more than just life’s soundtrack?

It’s true — music has a scientifically proven effect on mood, mental state, emotional health and overall well-being. It’s also known to produce improved outcomes for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. In this article, we’ll discuss the science behind music’s effect on memory and share a few details about The Ridge’s own Music & Memory program.

Before we dig into the many health benefits of melody and the effect of music on memory, here’s a playlist of old-school radio classics. Enjoy them by yourself or share them with a loved one — after all, a good song is good for your health.

Melody, Mood and the Body

You might think we’re exaggerating when we say that just listening to music can benefit your health. If so, you’ll probably be surprised to learn that hearing one of your favorite tunes is proven to improve mood and make you happier by causing a dopamine release in the brain. The next time you’re feeling down, spinning your favorite record could make you feel much better.

Beyond simply feeling happier, listening to music can yield some substantial immunological benefits. Jamming to your most-loved tunes causes the body to produce more white blood cells and immunity-boosting antibodies. It’s even been proven to reduce the risk and severity of conditions like Parkinson’s disease.

White senior elderly male with glasses listening to white over the ear headphones outside on a park bench

How Does Music Affect Memory and the Mind?

When it comes to memory-affective disorders like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, music can play a substantial role in preserving cognition and helping alleviate anxiety and negative emotions.

Hearing familiar music stimulates several different parts of the brain. Using MRI imaging, doctors have observed that listening to music causes a “lighting up” in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and seniors with other forms of dementia. Often, the effect is immediately apparent — as soon as their favorite song comes on, seniors recall the memories associated with it.

As Alzheimer’s progresses, language and memory centers within the brain become damaged. However, certain parts of the brain may remain almost entirely unaffected — in particular, the salience network of the mind. This is the part of the brain that dictates a person’s ability to focus and pay attention, and it’s the same part of the brain activated when someone hears their favorite song.

Seniors with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia might experience intense anxiety resulting from feelings of confusion and disorientation. For these seniors, music therapy in dementia care can provide an anchor that links them to lost memories. While music therapy is far from a cure, researchers believe that it can significantly improve quality of life.

The Ridge: A Music & Memory Care Community

At The Ridge, we understand the benefits of music therapy for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. That’s why we provide innovative, forward-thinking memory care programming with the support of Music & Memory®, a national advocate for music therapy in dementia care. Through this systemwide initiative, our residents receive iPods or other digital music playback devices loaded with personalized playlists of their personal favorites.

Senior men and women listening to a male perform songs on the violin.

Music & Memory® is just one of many engagement programs at The Ridge. To learn more, contact us or browse the individual community sites for The Ridge Foothill and The Ridge Cottonwood.