Music is a useful tool in psychotherapy, due to the way that it changes and deepens feelings. That is according to Dr Stella Compton-Dickinson, a music therapist, who has outlined how it can be used to treat certain conditions, many of which affect the elderly. In her article for the Daily Mail, she highlights the elements in different types of music that work for common complaints.
By following her guidelines, a rudimentary step into music for health can be achieved.
One of the most useful ways to improve the quality of life in the elderly through music is for aiding memory. Music often has strong associations with a specific time and place, so playing pre-recorded pieces can help to transport a relative or patient back to those days.
Dr Compton-Dickinson said: “If we hear a song it can bring back all those old feelings; romantic, sad, happy or funny. Music can make us feel nostalgic and it can make us laugh or cry, feel warm and loving or uncomfortable and full of regret.
“When working with elderly people who are suffering memory loss, if they hear a favourite old song it can bring back happier times.”
Listening to music with a loved-one can result in them singing along to the lyrics, even if their short-term memory has deteriorated. They may also start to talk about the events associated with the song and sharing memories can be very positive for older people. It reminds them of their achievements and helps to achieve a sense of continuity in their lives.
Motor skills can deteriorate in the elderly, especially those with specific conditions, and music has been used to help people with Parkinson’s disease. Rhythm is directly linked to motor skills and gentle singing can greatly improve walking in those with the condition. Finding the right song can be difficult, but when you get one with a suitable mood and tempo it can see their short and shuffling gait transform into well-formed steps.
Connecting the mental processes associated with music to physical acts can benefit diagonal coordination, balance, eye coordination and muscle memory. All of these areas are tackled in physical training and adding music to the mix could make exercises much more effective.
Research carried out by scientists from Edinburgh University found that an important part of the brain is developed when music is used to learn a physical task. Even just basic movements practiced to music result in increased structural connectivity between the sound processing areas of the brain and movement control centre.
More studies are required, but experts suggest that the findings could be positive for rehabilitating patients who have lost movement to varying degrees. This could include people who have suffered from a stroke and have lost much of their independence.
As music is a low-cost solution it could be widely implemented without medical intervention and the improvement in mood it brings along is a positive. It can be used to help fight depression and loneliness in older people without the need for expensive infrastructure to be put in place.