Celebrating the Grammy Awards earlier this week brought to mind the power of music to heal us. Numerous studies have shown the therapeutic effects of music for those with everything from Alzheimer’s disease to autism.
Anecdotally, Kim Campbell, who is now caregiver to her husband, country music icon Glen Campbell (who was diagnosed last year with Alzheimer’s), has said in several interviews that music has helped her 75-year-old husband continue to do what he loves — perform for live audiences, which he did all last year on his Farewell Tour. And I recently spoke to music legend and multiple Grammy winner Quincy Jones about his latest passion projects, which include the amazing effects of music as therapy for children with Down Syndrome and older Americans with dementia.
Is music one of the keys to a longer, happier life, despite health issues?
Although music has been with us since the dawn of time, in the last few decades studies have shown that music as a therapeutic tool can increase cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients, help premature infants gain weight, encourage autistic children to communicate, lead stroke patients to regain speech and mobility, and manage anxiety and depression for psychiatric patients.
Since music is associated with one of the five senses — hearing —which is controlled by the brain, it makes sense we should exercise our brains with music listening to spur cognitive function in the same way we use physical therapy to exercise our limbs, muscles and joints to regain mobility and physical function.
Studies have shown that music reduces agitation or improves behavioral issues such as violent outbursts in dementia patients. In one pilot program, 45 patients with middle- to late-stage dementia had one hour of personalized music therapy three times a week for 10 months, and improved their scores on a cognitive-function test by 50 percent on average.
And music therapy is not just used with older patients. When it comes to those children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, music therapy allows these children to develop identification and appropriate expression of their emotions; music becomes the universal language. Many people with diagnoses on the autism spectrum have innate musical talents so music therapy can provide these kids a sense of accomplishment and success.
When I spoke to Holly Robinson Peete, the successful actress, talk show host and singer, about her son R.J., who was diagnosed at age 3 with autism, she said he loves music and he has even recorded a song. In fact, Holly finds music a great way for her entire family to connect with R.J. and to enter his world.
She told me, “I think music makes him more comfortable. It is a way for R.J. to communicate without being judged.”
Music – A Cure for Caregiver Chaos
Music as therapy is not just for your loved one. We know caregivers encounter increased stress over caring for a loved one — in fact caregivers who reported their health was impacted by caring for a loved one cite stress as their No. 1 challenge. Studies show listening to music can lead to increased secretion levels of melatonin, a hormone associated with mood regulation, lower aggression, reduced depression and enhanced sleep. Using music to cope with these common caregiver complaints can be a welcome relief to caregiver burn-out.
5-Note Caregiver Music Therapy Program:
Music can both evoke and create memories that last forever. I close with this heartwarming story from the AMTA website:
When a couple danced together for the first time after five years of the husband’s deterioration from probable Alzheimer’s disease, the wife said: “Thank you for helping us dance. It’s the first time in three years that my husband held me in his arms.”
Tearfully, she said that she had missed him just holding her and that music therapy had made that possible.
This is an excerpt from Sherri Snelling’s book, A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care, published by Balboa Press on February 13, 2013.
Author Sherri Snelling
Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self care” while caring for a loved one. She is the former chairman of the National Alliance for Caregiving and is author of A Cast of Caregivers, a book about celebrities who have been caregivers.