Music Can Provide Therapy For Aging

Columnist Casey Stephanie
Columnist Casey Stephanie

This year, I am checking off each of the final 365 days of my 30s.

Pre-teens were born after the millennium, notable celebrities who have “stayed the same age” since my youth are suddenly looking “older,” and gas is less than $2 a gallon … wait, one of these things does not belong.

So, time is marching on. There is no getting around or defeating aging. A family friend with Alzheimer’s was recently moved to a very nice nursing home but the place still comes off as an institution — a hospital rather than a home. My grandparents fought (with success) to live out their lives in their own home. Surrounded by the familiar, the comfortable, it’s what most prefer — especially at a time when one is vulnerable and physically weakened.

I certainly hope by the time I am in need of late-life assistance, we have modified our elderly care to something less clinical and more cozy. But in the meantime, a nursing home or non-family assisted care is common.

How do we make the situation better for our aged and infirm population? Netflix recommended a documentary to me with one excellent solution: music. Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory follows social worker Dan Cohen as he brings joy and life back to those who have given up, shut down or receded into themselves. After a small amount of research or discussion with any given patient, Dan builds a playlist catered to the individual, gifts them an iPod and sets the headphones in place. Drawling largely on favorite and popular tunes from a person’s formative teen and young adult years — that indelible time of youth when music speaks your language, communicates feelings, and comforts like nothing else can — almost without exception, the people come alive … singing, dancing, smiling, laughing. For some, it’s the first sign of life in years. The music taps deep into the person’s soul and suddenly they are rattling off stories, memories, happy times — even folks greatly affected by Alzheimer’s.

What a beautiful concept! An escape down memory lane. A break from loneliness. An emotional jar shaking up the mind and often physical body, as well. I brought some music to the family friend mentioned earlier and watched this happen before my eyes. It’s amazing to see, and Dan is working to make his music “treatment” available in as many nursing homes as he can. Check out the documentary, and if there is anyone in your life who could benefit from such music therapy, give them this wonderful gift.

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