The connection between music and memory is strong; so strong, that just the sound of a once familiar tune can bring light and recognition–at least temporarily–back into the eyes of an elderly person lost in the misty and unfamiliar landscape of Alzheimer’s disease.
“Music helps them remember and connect in the moment, with family members, with people, and even with themselves,” says Leanne Flask, Co-Founder of Texas-based Coro Health, a company that provides therapeutic music and inspirational audio programming for patients in elder care facilities, nursing homes, oncology (cancer treatment) centers, and hospitals.
“Somebody who has Alzheimer’s becomes very isolated because they don’t have their memory anymore.” Flask explains. But, because the last portion of your brain that degrades as a result of the disease, is also where music is stored, she says, music can often help Alzheimer’s patients interact with friends and loved ones they no longer remember.
For example, she says, someone “might not remember their daughter, and then you put on a Frank Sinatra song; they know every lyric, and they know their daughter in that moment.”
Coro Health creates and delivers customized therapeutic music programs that are designed with health-related benefits in mind. Those include reducing medication use, alleviating depression, reducing the perception of pain, cognitive stimulation, and more. These benefits are delivered via individualized “music prescriptions” that help patients have more energy, wake up, relax, and sleep.
In order to scientifically quantify the actual benefits of their work; Flask says her company commissioned a study by a Neuroscientist at the University of California. That study, she says, showed their therapeutic music programs reduce agitation and depression in patients by “between 27 and 54 percent”.
The results, she says, confirmed what they had already observed in the elder care facilities where the music was played.
“We immediately saw a change. We saw people laughing, and we saw the workers interacting with residents, in a different way. There was just so much emotion that came into the space to where residents were walking across the hall to other residents rooms asking what kind of music they had, and people were dancing in the halls. It was literally this kind of moment that brought me to my knees. I was just in tears, because these people have been taken away from their families; they’ve lost their loved ones, and all of a sudden, they can hear a Temptations song and they remember dancing with their husbands. That is an amazing gift to be able to give to somebody.”
“You have to think about the physical reaction that occurs when you listen to music”, Flask continues, “based on tempo, and texture, and key, and the level or intricacies of instrumentation; what it can do, is it can slow down your heart rate. It can deepen your breathing, and all of those physiological reactions that occur, support things like healing and minimizing stress. When you get stressed; you trigger the symptoms of fight or flight…you breathe really shallow, you’re really nervous, you get a little bit shaky, your muscles get tense…and music, with its rhythms, has the ability to literally match and slow down all those processes.”
“So”, she concludes, “You can’t say music helps healing. What music does do, is it helps the body enter into a state that will support the healing process…to minimize stress, to have deeper breaths, to have a higher oxygen level.”
That process, she says, is also helpful for cancer patients, because it helps bolster their chemotherapy-damaged immune systems.
But because patients also have emotional and spiritual needs; Coro Health also offers more than 1,000 hours of inspirational audio content that includes prayers, inspirational readings, spiritual exercises, and sermons.
In addition, because all of their audio content is streamed over the internet and can be accessed via wireless connections; it can be streamed not only by staff members using it to try to help patients; but also by visiting family members.
Flask says music can help bridge the lonely gap between an isolated, depressed, and often memory-impaired patient and those who come to visit. For example, she says, someone could take an internet-enabled device such as an Android or iPhone into their grandmother’s room and say “Grandma, you love country music, let’s play some country music together.”
That kind of interaction will soon be something that can be shared with patients in hospitals nationwide, as Coro Health has moved into that market as well.
For more information about music and health, follow the links below:
The Practical Nurse: 17 Excellent Studies About Music, The Brain, and Your Health
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