If you haven’t heard, the power of sound and music is the super elixir for learning, focus, communication, sensory processing, sleep, stress management, memory, social & emotional wellness, executive functioning, rehabilitation, problem-solving, motor skills, wellness, and creative expression. It’s also particularly remarkable to see what it can do to a brain experiencing dementia and cognitive decline.
SING A SONG OF SIXPENCE
I’ve watched hundreds of people go through dementia, including my own mother, right to the end of their life; and one thing I’ve always been astounded by is what music does to the brain, even while going through the journey of living with dementia.
Just days before my mother passed, we took her to a Valentine’s Day celebration that had a sing-along. All the songs being sung were from the 1930s and beyond, and while she hadn’t said much in weeks when the music started up, she sang every single word to each song…. correctly. I was stunned that she knew the lyrics to obscure songs I’d never heard of. How did she remember them? She was happy those last few hours. Music had brought her one last bit of joy.
Music has been a miraculous tool to support social and emotional function and can slow and reduce panic attacks, including redirecting a person with dementia when they have stressful behaviors. However, it’s not just beneficial for those with cognitive decline or illness. I not only played music while I was pregnant with my children, but I put on music before naps and bedtime which fostered deep and relaxing sleep. It was my go-to when my kids were little and needed a “time-out” from the chaos of life, even their little troubles. Music and sound can rewire a stressed-out brain, quiet a worried and busy mind, and one of my favorites…the ability to trigger an astonishing creative streak. Many writers do their best writing while listening to music that inspires their creative flow.
Music triggers beautiful memories, and yes sometimes painful ones as well, but that just shows the magnitude of what a song can do for our minds. Working music and sound into your daily routine is one of the easiest habits to add to your schedule, and it can effortless.
First thing in the morning instead of reaching for your phone to check emails and texts, stream a meditation playlist for 15 minutes, while you start your morning routine. There are plenty of free meditation music playlists available on your favorite streaming app. The interesting sounds and frequencies put your brain in the right frame of mind to start your day sharp and get ready to tackle anything coming your way. Fifteen minutes goes quickly, and I have a hunch you’ll decide to listen longer, but anyone can fit in 15 minutes. No excuses.
TIME FOR MUSIC
Schedule in your calendar regular breaks of calming and anti-anxiety music tracks mid-day when stress is most likely to smother you from the demands of work and life. If you’re like most people, if it’s not on your calendar it probably won’t happen. When you feel the pressure of your day building, pop earbuds in and press play. Even 10 minutes could keep you from falling over the stress edge.
Visiting a loved one with dementia, or a lonely aging adult living by themselves? Fire up a collection of music that will get both of you moving to the beat of the sound. Don’t be surprised if the belly laughs and dance moves start happening. That lasting high of what music does to the brain continues long past the final note.
Set the tone at dinner with some relaxing tunes to keep everyone at the dinner table even-tempered. We all come to the table a bit of a bear at times, and I have found a healthy dose of classical music soothes the hungry dinner patron. The less stressed we are, the more apt we are to engage in meaningful conversation and be able to share our hectic day with each other.
CLASSICAL MUSIC: THE SUPER HERO
While all music is beneficial there is a superhero among the genres. Classical music releases dopamine that spikes pleasure. Dopamine also prevents the release of stress hormones. When the mood is improved, thinking is clarified making tasks like homework and late-night writing a lot more enjoyable. If you play classical music before you go to bed, it’s been shown to be particularly effective in slowing down our thoughts and allowing the brain to switch off for the night. And we all know how important sleep is to our health! Here’s to Aging Well.