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Music devices may be key to improving memory care

March 26, 2014

Scientists have long stressed the health benefits music can bring to people. Musical tones can provide relief from stress, lead to lower blood pressure and have even been linked to improved heart health. Several organizations have recently found that music can also be instrumental for memory care, discovering that songs can help Alzheimer's and dementia patients to recall certain events from their lives. Several retirement communities have incorporated music programs within their walls, whether they're pairing older adults with nonprofits that provide music therapy or providing seniors with opportunities to listen to their favorite tunes.

Wisconsin senior homes incorporate iPods
The Star Tribute reported that nursing homes in the Wisconsin area have begun to distribute iPods to seniors living in nursing homes. As part of the state's Music and Memory Initiative to assist individuals living with Alzheimer's, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services provided 100 retirement homes that serve these adults with music devices to lend to residents. Officials told the source that the new program sought to improve memory by introducing seniors to songs from their pasts.

Additionally, the initiative aims to provide music that may help improve mood, communication and conversations between seniors. Kim Martinson, the recreation therapy director at one of the homes, told the source that she has already seen a difference in some residents' behaviors. 

"It is amazing to see someone's face light up when they hear their personalized music," Martinson said. "We have seen a decrease in resident behaviors, less wandering, more social interaction and they are more upbeat and happy after listening to their music."

Vintage Music Therapy targets seniors
Other programs have sought to connect seniors and music through the form of musical therapy. The Los Altos Town Crier reported that one California-based nonprofit created a Vintage Music Therapy program for older adults. According to the source, seniors from local retirement communities meet twice a week to hear some of the most famous songs from their younger years, listening for 45 to 60 minutes each session.

John W. Lehman, the executive director of the nonprofit Senior New Ways, explained that music can help tackle both memory and social problems that seniors typically face. Through this program, seniors may see improved brain functioning and better group dynamics. Lehman explained that music is beneficial for sparking seniors' memories, as they associate specific songs with particular moments.

"...We tend to remember things that have an emotional component, because our amygdala and neurotransmitters act in concert to 'tag' the memories as something important," Lehman said, as quoted by the source.