Have you ever noticed that individuals with dementia are often times able to sing along to a familiar song even though they may have a hard time remembering daily occurrences and/or their communication may be impaired? Why is this? According to studies performed by the American Music Therapy Association, there are certain pathways of the brain that are stimulated by music. These same pathways are responsible for memory and learning. That is why we often times associate familiar songs with specific events or time periods in our lives.
Therapeutic benefits of music were first noted after World War I and World War II when musicians began singing and playing at hospitals for war veterans with physical and emotional trauma. Just as back then, people today still enjoy music, but can it actually make the mind “move”? According to Kimmo Lehtonen, PhD, professor of education at the University of Turku (Finland), it can.
Dr. Lehtonen has been a clinical music therapist for more than 25 years. “Music therapy has many faces,” says Lehtonen. “With older adults, I mainly use old wartime songs, which seem to bring many lively memories to their minds. Music has a close relationship with unconscious emotions, which are activated by musical movement. To me, music represents a microcosmos which has a close relationship to our inner feelings. These feelings are so strong; they’re meaningful even if patients cannot remember who they are.”
Music can be used in more ways than promoting or improving memory; it has also been proven to assist in promoting wellness, stress management, pain alleviation, expressing feelings, improving communication and to promote physical rehabilitation.
Make an effort to encourage the use of music in everything you do, after all, it is the only language that binds all of us through the gift of rhythm and melody.