By Brian Hauenstein, OSA Greater Grand Rapids
For someone living with dementia, the distant memories are often the most familiar, rather than events that happened earlier that week, or even that day. This reality can make it difficult for friends and family members to connect with their loved ones. However, there is a universal language that can bring back that connection, even when it feels as though it has been lost – music. For a person living with a memory-related disease, recognizing a song can motivate them to sit up, clap their hands and even sing along.
Research has shown that music can stimulate parts of the brain and enhance the memory of people who are living with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. A study at UC Irvine found that the scores on memory tests of patients with Alzheimer’s improved when listening to classical music. This stimulation can fight against some of the negative effects of aging, especially when it comes to the isolation that a senior may experience when living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Brian Hauenstein, owner of Oasis Senior Advisors Greater Grand Rapids, is a musician in the Irish band, Paddy’s Cure. For years he has shared music with his community at Irish festivals and pubs, but it wasn’t until he began working with the seniors in West Michigan that he discovered the true impact that music has on the aging population.
Music is a powerful tool that can have a profound effect on many aspects of a senior’s physical and mental health. While it acts as a gateway for helping seniors to reconnect with past memories and to communicate with loved ones when that has become difficult, it can also encourage them to stay active. Even the small movement of clapping their hands, tapping their toes or swaying to the beat can help improve their physical health, ranging from pain and stress relief to improved heart function.
In addition to playing for seniors with Paddy’s Cure, Brian also joined a local organization called ElderMusic. This group brings live music to more than a dozen senior living communities in Kent County, Mich. ElderMusic primarily plays for residents living in memory care units where they perform lifelong favorites such as “Amazing Grace” and “You Are My Sunshine.” The group has discovered that there’s no need to pass out a song sheet when playing classic hits. As soon as the music starts playing, the seniors’ lips begin to mouth along with the lyrics, and the toe-tapping starts as if they’ve been transported back to an earlier time.
People living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia are often able to connect with their musical memories because the key areas of the brain that are linked to musical memory tend to be relatively undamaged by the disease, so listening to or singing along with familiar songs can provide both emotional and behavioral benefits.
Brian has seen how music can breathe life and joy into seniors who have become isolated. Last year, Brian helped an accomplished pianist find the perfect senior living community, and with nearly every visit since, Brian has seen the man entertaining the other residents and guests with his musical gift. Music spreads joy among the residents while helping to create new friendships and memories.
Though the effects of aging can cause unique challenges for seniors and their loved ones, there are outlets, like music, that can help them to regain social and emotional connections, stay motivated to be active and find joy in the simplest moments.
Oasis Senior Advisors provides this information to help you care for the seniors in your life. Oasis works to connect older adults and their families with helpful resources to care for our aging population. To learn more about how your local Oasis advisor can benefit you and your loved one, contact us at (888) 455-5838.