For the last few months, we’ve been discussing the benefits of therapeutic music and Chicago Methodist Senior Services’ (CMSS) Sounds of Healing program for older adults. Now, with the holiday season upon us, you might be wondering how to bring the joy of music into your holiday celebrations with your parents, grandparents or any other older adults in your life.
Here’s some good news: the use of therapeutic music doesn’t have to be limited to memory care and assisted/supportive living communities like those at CMSS. You can bring therapeutic music practices into your own home this holiday season and use them to spark joy for the older adults in your family.
Why should you make therapeutic music a part of your holiday celebrations with older adults?
The holidays can be a difficult time for many older people, but music can help.
During the holidays, many of the older adults in your life may be under added stress as they leave their home or community to attend holiday celebrations or receive visits from family. For those folks, music can have a calming effect.
As Henri Harps, music programming director at CMSS explains, “when used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.”
The benefits of music can be even more striking for those with memory loss, who might find it hard to connect with others or participate in festivities over the holidays. While engaging in long conversations with family might not always be accessible for individuals with memory loss, connecting around music usually is.
“Memory for autobiographically important music seems to be spared in people with Alzheimer’s disease,” UC Davis researcher Petr Janata explained in an article about his research. If you’ve ever witnessed a loved one struggle to remember names and faces and yet recall all the words to an old favorite song, you know exactly what Janata means.
Since music is so strongly associated with the holidays, bringing it into your celebrations with the older adults in your life can be a great way to unlock memories, create connections and spark joy.
Ideas for incorporating therapeutic music into your holiday celebrations
You can incorporate many of the same therapeutic music practices we use at CMSS communities into your own holiday celebrations with the older adults in your life, whether you’re visiting them in their community or they’re visiting you in your home. Here are a few ideas for doing just that.
Play age-appropriate holiday tunes via Spotify or Apple Music
The older adults in your life are most likely to recall and connect with holiday music that was popular in their childhood, teens and 20s. Determine which decades they were in during those ages, and then find a holiday playlist (or even just a general “top hits” playlist) from that era on a music streaming service like Spotify or Apple music. Here are a few options from Spotify to get you started:
- 1920s-40s Christmas
- Wartime Christmas (1930s & 1940s)
- Vintage Holidays
- Hits from the 1920s
- 1930s Hits
- 1940s Hits (Billboard #1 Singles)
While it might not feel totally natural at first, try singing along to the songs you know from the playlists you select. This might encourage the older adults in your life to do the same.
Mayo Clinic reports that “singing along to music together with your loved one can boost the mood and enhance your relationship. Some early studies also suggest musical memory functions differently than other types of memory, and singing can help stimulate unique memories.”
Incorporate musical instruments
If your loved one used to play a musical instrument, why not give them the opportunity to try their hand at it again over the holiday season? Like listening to and singing along with music, playing a musical instrument can have significant benefits for older adults and those with memory loss. As CMSS’ Henri Harps explains:
“Playing a musical instrument involves multiple components of the central and peripheral nervous systems. As a musician plays an instrument, motor systems in the brain control both gross and fine movements needed to produce sound. The sound is processed by auditory circuitry, which in turn can adjust signaling by the motor control centers. In addition, sensory information from the fingers, hands and arms is sent to the brain for processing. If the musician is reading music, visual information is sent to the brain for processing and interpreting commands for the motor centers. And of course, the brain processes emotional responses to the music as well.”
As these processes happen in an older adult’s brain and body, subtle (and sometimes significant) shifts in mood, memory and engagement can occur.
Attend a concert of musical performance
Some holiday movies and plays might be hard for older adults with memory loss to stay engaged with, but concerts and musical performances can be a great alternative. Whether you choose to take your older loved one to your child’s holiday concert or to a performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the experience is likely to be one you both enjoy.
Release your expectations
While you might be excited to incorporate the joy of music into your holiday celebrations this year, it’s important to take it slow and release all expectations about how your older loved one will react. While singing along to holiday music might be appealing one day, the older adult in your life might prefer solitude or conversation the next time you see them. The best time to enjoy music together is whenever it feels right for both you and your loved one.
Here’s to a holiday season full of the joy of music
Here at CMSS, we see the benefits of therapeutic music activities firsthand every single day. Whether residents are listening to music through Music in Memory, singing or playing along to familiar songs, or attending performances from our partners at Music Institute of Chicago, Chicago Civic Orchestra, or the Old Town School of Folk Music, music always seems to bring a great deal of joy into their lives. This holiday season, we hope you can experience that same sense of joy with your loved ones.
Are you interested in learning more about our Sounds of Healing programming and CMSS’ approach to therapeutic music? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to stay up to date.