Putting Music Therapy Into Your Caregiver Toolbox

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Think back to your youth; what do you remember most? In many cases, your memory is attached to a song.

Music is a part of our lives. Our mothers sing to us as tiny infants in their arms. We learn rhyming songs to help us know common, everyday chores. If I say A-B-C-D-E-F-G, you probably start humming the rest of the song.

Why the brain and body processes music the way it does remains a mystery. We’re only starting to discover how important music is in our lives. But we know that music has been an important part of the way we live as long as people have been on this planet. Music allows us to storytelling in an animated way. And while you may have trouble remembering everything you studied for a test the night before, chances are you can recall the words to your favorite music from decades earlier.

Maybe it’s because speech uses smaller parts of our brain than music. On the other hand, scientists know that music fires off almost every part of our brain, stimulating responses from everyone who hears it. So even if you haven’t heard a song in years, you’re likely to associate it with an event in your past, triggering emotion based on that time in your life.

That’s the basis behind music therapy. In numerous clinical trials, therapists have great results when they play music to help patients with chronic conditions. For example, adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s show remarkable differences when introduced to music therapy compared to those who don’t.

Even with these chronic conditions, not all parts of the brain are impacted. The hippocampus, which controls memory and emotional impact, remains intact. When music is played, it often triggers long-term memories and can cause people that haven’t spoken in years to break out in song suddenly.

Research has also shown that making music is different from listening. Actively taking part in a song activates even more in the brain. It helps balance and movement in cognitive and limbic areas. That’s why music therapy often starts with listening to old, familiar tunes but quickly moves into production to get the body involved.

While music therapy isn’t a miracle cure, it can be good for both the caregiver and the one they care for. Instead of witnessing loss after loss, they can suddenly experience something that brings their loved ones joy. They can sing or even dance together, helping them remember the good times once again.

Have you ever tried music therapy?

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