Music is important in a variety of settings. From live concerts in the park or helping energize a workout, to helping people unwind and bring serenity, music can delight, motivate and soothe.
Music therapy for older adults can help heal – emotionally, cognitively and physically, according to Henri Harps, Music Programming Coordinator with Chicago Methodist Senior Services.
“Music is actually one of the most important physical and emotional processes the human mind experiences,” he notes.
We process music with almost every part of our brain. When sound engages our eardrums, it travels between our auditory cortex, where the sound is processed, and the limbic system, where we process our emotions and memories. This activates large parts of the brain at the same time. “For aging Americans, and especially those dealing with memory conditions, music and musical interventions can exercise the full brain,” adds Harps.
Benefits of Music Therapy for Older Adults
At CMSS, music therapy for older adults is used to promote stress management, boost overall general wellness and enhance memory. New research is also investigating how music can be employed to alleviate physical pain.
Music stimulates all brain regions that are considered the core of emotional processing, so for people with people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of memory loss, a song from one’s past have a positive impact on their well-being and their brain health.
“I’ve seen many, many patients who are not very responsive, but they hear a song they remember and the memory almost floods the rest of their brain,” says Harps. “They can sing lyrics to that song, where a lot of other information in their lives may be confused.”
Benefits of an Individualized Approach
The music program at CMSS takes an individualized approach in identifying and determining how each resident can best benefit. For example, someone in assisted living may require a different set of tools than someone in memory care. “What we try to do is analyze what those needs are and then bring various kinds of music intervention to residents based on their needs,” explains Harps.
Music therapy for older adults is also categorized into “respective,” which is listening to music, or “active,” which is making music. When deciding on appropriate music in a “receptive” setting, Harps typically chooses popular music from when the resident was between the ages of 18 to 35 — the time when musical memory tends to be the strongest.
In Harps’ experience, live music is well-received across multiple generations and styles, and he’s exploring a few programs that collaborate with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
“The orchestra came in and performed several of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos for residents, which was a hit. They loved it. We also had a string quartet several weeks earlier that played works from Beethoven, which was also popular. Fairly soon I will be bringing in different jazz musicians to play jazz in various stages, which, judging from the excitement I’m getting, I also think will be a hit,” states Harps.
Profound Effects, Realized
CMSS also partners with Musicians on Call, a Nashville-based organization that brings individual music performances to each resident’s room. Harps recalls an instance where a volunteer musician performed “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for a CMSS resident who was unresponsive and in hospice care. The resident’s daughter and granddaughter were also present. “Having the music really brought all of the emotion in the room to a beautiful place,” he recalls. “This is what we want music therapy for older adults to do; to play a role in healing, to play a role in wellness, to be able to highlight an emotional moment and see the effect with the resident, the family, myself and staff, and even the musician. The connection it builds is exactly what we’re looking for, for every resident here at CMSS.”
Community & Staff Involvement
Currently, music programming is a request service, but Harps and the staff are working diligently to make it a standard part of the care plan.
And, he ultimately foresees the mature version of the music initiative to be something where everyone — community, family, staff — understands the importance of music and how they can bring that music to residents. He hopes to eventually empower the care staff to recognize what’s needed and be able to respond to it in an appropriate way.
“There are so many musicians like myself who have a real community-driven kind of love for bringing music [to people] — not just as a performance, but also as an act of love and an act of community building,” shares Harps. “I hope to encourage every musician who comes and plays at CMSS to be a part of our community and help us use music as a ‘lingua franca’ to form a closer, tighter community that is of benefit to the residents.”
Listen to the interview with Henri Harps, Music Programming Coordinator with Chicago Methodist Senior Services, here.