No matter what age we are, music is a tool that can transport us to a specific place in time. It evokes memories. Music therapy has become a vital part of the memory care programming at AlmaVia of San Francisco. The Alzheimer’s Association estimated that in 2019, 5.6 million people age 65 and older were living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Music therapy is a target-oriented and purposeful activity in which therapists work with individuals or groups, using musical expression and the memories, feelings and sensations it evokes.  It’s particularly beneficial for older adults with various types of dementia.

Board-certified music therapist Scott Garred works with AlmaVia of San Francisco assisted living and memory care residents once a week. Garred says the importance of music therapy is paramount as we age.

“It all just creates a way for them to come to life,” Garred said. “It’s like getting on a train and going to this magical place for just a moment or two. You may see some people just sitting quietly, but when the music starts, you see their face light up as they shake instruments and sing along. I never know when I start a chord and start singing a song who is going to be singing with me. People begin to get up and want to move their bodies.”

Unconventional instruments are also tools to help spark memories. Using an ocean drum and singing “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean” sparked memories of trips with her children for one resident.

“She’s singing along with me, knowing all the words. She’s starting to talk about going down memory lane and going to the ocean. I take a leap and joke with her and say, “You must surf.” She says she’s never surfed, but has taken her kids fishing many times — the  fish on the drum reminded her of that.
It took her a long time to get all that out, but that was the gist of our conversation. That’s a huge connection and it happened through music.”

In some cases, music may be even more potent than traditional medical interventions, such as prescription medications and physical therapy exercises. Music therapy for seniors helps with issues such as:

Cognitive Skills: Music can help seniors process their thoughts and maintain memories. Many people associate music with past events, and just hearing a song can evoke a memory even many years later. For those with dementia, music from their childhood or young adult years has proven to be useful in obtaining a positive response and involvement, even when the person can no longer communicate.

Speech Skills: Music therapy has been proven to help older adults answer questions, make decisions and speak clearer. It can help slow the deterioration of speech and language skills in those with dementia; studies have shown that even when a person with Alzheimer’s loses the ability to speak, they can still recognize and even hum or sing their favorite song.

Music for relaxation: Some caregivers have difficulty managing their aging loved one’s stress and agitation. Playing music they enjoy can help relax and ease aggressive behaviors. Slow songs like ballads and lullabies can help prepare your loved one for bed or deal with changes to their routines that may cause agitation.

Physical Skills: Music can inspire movement in seniors. With music comes dancing, after all. Music and dancing promote coordination and can help with walking and endurance. Even if your loved one isn’t mobile, music can inspire toe-tapping and clapping, thus getting the blood flowing once again.

Social Skills: Increased social interaction with caregivers and others is another benefit music therapy can offer seniors. It encourages bonding with others, which in turn can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and depression.

Learn more about music therapy and memory care at all our Elder Care Alliance communities by visiting our Care Services page, or take our Care Needs Assessment to see if senior living is the right fit for you or your loved one.