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31st Jan 2022

Music Therapy & its Benefits for Seniors

“Music is a world within itself with a language we all understand.” – Stevie Wonder 

Consider how often you walk around wearing your headphones, choosing the song that best fits your mood on that particular day; how does this change your experience? Does it alter your perception of yourself? Of course, it does. Learn more about the benefits of music therapy for seniors.

What is music therapy for seniors? 

Music therapy is a technique in which music is used to stimulate certain areas of the brain to support overall healing. The brain doesn’t respond effectively to any sort of music. It responds positively to music that is familiar to a person that makes them feel something significant.

If you look at the brain put under music therapy on a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (FMRI), you will notice certain specular results. Neurons become activated during this process. The brain responds to music with profound cellular signals that evoke emotions within us.

How old is music therapy? 

Music was initially used to communicate, stemming from early man’s necessity to vocalise intrinsic needs. Over time, humans developed music as a tool for socialization, creativity and healing. There is a Biblical story that has the character, David. He played the Harp for king Saul to soothe him as it was believed that he was under an evil spirit.

We may refer to this “evil spirit” today as depression or maybe anxiety. There was a secret chord that David played and pleased the lord that cured the king. This was one of the earliest accounts of the use of music therapy to treat a person. In India, there is a legend that Thyagaraja, the famous musician from Southern India, made a dead person alive by invoking certain Ragas in his singing.

Employing music to alleviate our body and mind 

From the point of inception until our last breath, we respond to music in one way or the other. This may be because we are all born with a rhythm within us: heartbeat or perhaps something deeper. From stabilizing babies in the neonatal intensive care units to supporting older adults with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, music taps into this phenomenon by meeting the needs of the individual from birth to death. When it comes to mental health, music therapy is here to bridge the gap between ease and disease, between pain and comfort, and between misunderstanding and acceptance.

How does music therapy work? 

Our brain consists of millions of cells called Neurons. When we act, they send in electric signals. To learn anything new, we need to make new connections between those neurons and that is called neuroplasticity. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain associated with reward-based learning. Research has shown that listening to ‘preferred’ music increases dopamine production in the brain. With more dopamine, new connections build-up and it helps in improving brain functionality.

Benefits of music therapy for seniors

  • Decreases pain
  • Reduces anxiety, depression and loneliness
  • Improves verbal, physical and motor recovery
  • Increases respiratory capability
  • Facilitates expression of feelings, fears and hope
  • Increases socialization, acceptance of disability and mood elevation

The Indian tradition of music therapy 

Sangeeta Ratnakar is a 13th-century book on musicology in Sanskrit, written by Sarangdev. In this book, he mentions the use of particular notes of sounds to cure imbalances in the body in the form of Vata, Pitta and Kapha, based on Ayurvedic tradition.

Depending upon their nature, Ragas have been classified into various types; a particular Raga has the capacity to invoke a certain emotion. For example, Raga Darbari is considered very effective in relieving tension. It is a late-night raga composed by legendary Tansen for Akbar to relieve his tension after a hectic day in court.  Various ragas have since been recognized to have a definite impact on mind and mood, like Raga Pooriya Dhanasri is associated with a sweet, deep, heavy and stable state of mind while Bageshwari evokes a feeling of darkness, stability and depth.

Based on the Research paper by Dr Tek Chand Kaul, some of the Ragas which heal various ailments are mentioned below, 

  • Raga Ahir Bhairav is supposed to sustain the chords, which automatically brings down blood pressure. This raga is a combination of Kafi and Bhairav.  Pandit Jasaraj’s Aaj to Anand Hi Anand in Druti-Teen Tal is one of the best vocal performances of this beautiful raga.
  • Raga Malkauns and Raga Asawari help cure low blood pressure. The timeless performance by Pandit Onkarnath Thakur in Paga ghunghroo baandh Meera nache re is one of the best-known examples of this raga.
  • For heart ailments, Raga Chandrakauns is considered very helpful. Certain other prominent ragas for relaxation and easing tension are Raga Tilak-kamod, Hansdhwani, Kalavati Durga etc. They evoke a very pleasing effect on the nerves.
  • For patients suffering from insomnia, who need peaceful sonorous sleep, Raga Bihag and Bahar have a wonderful effect.

Music therapy treatment is conducted either early morning, evening or night. One should avoid long music sessions on an empty stomach. Music sessions should be of one-hour duration with two or three short sessions with breaks.

Music therapy & Parkinson’s disease 

Parkinson’s is  caused by the depletion of dopaminergic neurons in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia. It causes depletion in neural activity in other parts of the brain which control movements. With an external cue, say music, the brain can be directed to use alternate pathways in the brain which control movements. This is how music therapy can help a person suffering from this very disease.

Music therapy & Alzheimers 

Stimulation through preferred music can enhance brain activity which helps in slowing down the negative effects of Alzheimers.  

Music Therapy & anxiety 

The body releases stress hormones such as Adrenaline and Cortisol, Music therapy helps in reducing the release of these hormones. One can try Pandit Raghunath Seth’s Raga Darbari (instrumental) music therapy cassette named Tanav which is especially composed for easing tension.

Although music therapy is not a cure for all mental and physical health conditions, it is certainly an effective technique that should be employed with modern medication to enhance the recovery from a particular disease. People have used music not just for healing of mind and body, but also for cultural connections and improving social skills.

After knowing the benefits of music therapy for seniors, what are you waiting for now? Let’s plug in some good music and reap its benefits.

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