Where words fail, music speaks.”― Hans Christian Andersen

Chances are we’ve all had the experience of hearing music from our teens or young adult years, and were instantly transported in our minds to a time in the past. Our favorite songs are usually ones we listened to over and over. They are often strongly associated with people and events that have special meaning. Much like certain scents or smells, music has the power to evoke vivid memories, both positive and negative. It can enhance the quality of life for older adults, even those with dementia and severe cognitive limitations.

Among its many benefits, music can promote relaxation, lower stress, and improve memory. Seniors may find that the music they listened to when they first fell in love, for instance, can bring back fond memories and spark feelings of well-being and joy. Because music is stored in a different part of the brain than other types of memories, even people with advanced dementia may be able to recognize and sing along with familiar tunes.

Music can be soothing, inspirational, and boost a person’s mood. It can lessen the perception of pain and even motivate people of all ages to exercise more vigorously. Maintaining muscle strength, balance, and flexibility is especially important for seniors, and exercising to music can make physical activity much more pleasant and rewarding. In addition, music-related activities such as playing musical instruments, singing, listening to music, and watching musical performances can improve connections with other people.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers the following tips on using music to improve the quality of life for an older adult:

  • Select music that is familiar and enjoyable, and sparks the person’s interest and attention
  • Encourage singing, clapping, tapping, or dancing
  • Use a music source that doesn’t have commercial interruptions

Music can enrich the lives of older adults and is more readily available and accessible than at any other time in human history. As medicine for the mind and body, music has the power to lift our spirits, soothe our worries, and stir our souls.