Music & Wellbeing

From the moment we’re born through to our passing, human life is entwined with music. From lullabies through to funeral hymns, music acts as a soundtrack to our existence, often augmenting and enriching our journey; the rhythms reflected in our heartbeats, our speech patterns, and our energy levels. As such music is a powerful force in our lives and affects the way we live in today’s society.

The power of music, to unlock memories and kick-start the grey matter is an increasingly key feature of dementia care. It seems to reach parts of the damaged brain in ways other forms of communication cannot.

Research has shown that music has the ability to unlock memories and stimulate behavioural patterns in both the young and the old. It has the ability to awaken the brain unlike other forms of stimulus. Some of the key general-health benefits of incorporating music as a form of therapy in your life include:

  • Muscle relaxation
  • Stress respite
  • Better quality of sleep
  • Enhancing and promotion of regular exercise habits
  • Easing pain, alongside the use traditional medical treatment/therapies
  • Boosting brain activity and memory functions
  • Recent studies have also shown that music has very definitive impact on the elderly, and particularly those showing signs of dementia.

Interestingly enough, the auditory system of the brain is the first to fully function at 16 weeks, meaning that humans are musically receptive at just four months of age. In regards to dementia this most often means that with the loss of memory – usually impacted in timeline by a first-in, last-out process – music is arguably the last component of the brain affected by the disease.

To process music, the brain uses many parts to listen, recognise, and identify the stimulus. Those suffering from dementia benefit from listening to music, as it stimulates their brain, and enhances mood and behavioural patterns. If patients are listening to music they are familiar with they are able to recall strong emotions attached to their memories, whilst unfamiliar music also has the ability to quite simply just bring joy. We all attach memories to certain music, and as a result music is a powerful trigger that stimulates our memory and our minds. It is possible for cognitive decline to stall or delay with regular music stimulation. At the very least music’s emotive triggers release newly-activated brain functioning.

Music therapy programmes, or even latent background music helps to encourage a more relaxed state of physical and mental well-being. As such those benefitting from music are more able to process their treatments and their environments. Hospitals, care-facilities, retirement homes, clinics, and palliative care centres are all becoming more aware about the benefits of using music in their environments as indicators have shown that music has a positive influence on those managing chronic pain, through to those with dementia.

Studies in Europe focussing on stroke survivors and those recovering from open-heart surgery has revealed that music has the function of enhancing both emotional and physical attributes of patients. General conclusions highlighted that patients recovering from open-heart surgery had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their systems after listening to classical music, whilst stroke-survivors were assisted with their ability to recognize words and their communication bolstered by listening to their favourite music. Music also assisted with recuperation and led to less depression and confusion amongst patients.

As author Jodi Picoult once wrote, “Music is the language of memory”. Therapists and care-givers are increasingly aware of the power of music in treating dementia patients, as well as patients requiring general mood enhancement.

It sounds so simple… and it is, especially if the music stimulus sounds so good.