Resources for Family Caregivers of Older Adults
Music’s Impact as the Soundtrack of Seniors’ Lives – Yesterday & Today

Music’s Impact as the Soundtrack of Seniors’ Lives – Yesterday & Today

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We all have music that defined our generation and helped to mold us. Our senior loved ones are no different!

Some find a kinship with rock and roll starting with Elvis, some prefer jazz or even classical melodies, others love country tunes and there are those who want to only hear gospel music. What is your favorite music? Is it the same as your senior loved one’s favorite?

Music holds a unique place in each of our lives, as unique as we each are. Baby boomers are credited with the creation and even flourishing of rock and roll (1946-1964). Many feel that the drive to support rock and roll was their collective belief in individual expression and challenging authority, including their parents. They wanted to rebel against the status quo.

Newfangled inventions like transistor radios allowed boomers to listen to their favorite music at their leisure. They wore out their phonographs (those music machines with vinyl discs, for younger family caregivers) playing music over and over and shared albums with others. They weren’t at the mercy of a radio broadcast schedule, as their parents were when listening to their favorite oldies and crooners. They had a portable transistor radio for music on the go when they wanted, too. They demanded FM radio without talkative DJs as well.

Because the lives of people classified as boomers were filled with social change, their music mirrored that change. Boomers across the globe all came of age together, shared the cultural revolution and spoke through their music.

What Music Defines You & Your Senior Loved One?

Were you or your senior loved one at Woodstock in August of 1969? Did they or you spend a long weekend in the mud enjoying the beat of favorite bands? They were ‘changing the world’ as they loved the music.

Or was the Newport Jazz and Folk Festival more their personal music scene? Folk singers were and still are important figures to many boomers.

The sound of soul with a pop influence that is Motown was also popular among boomers. The smooth sound of Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations and Gladys Knight and the Pips helped integrate a generation.

What’s on your tape deck, turntable or – more likely – smartphone or mp3 player right now? Does your senior have a radio tuned to their favorite station that they enjoy listening to even today?

Helping Senior Loved Ones Through Music

Our love for music and the fact that it is truly embedded in our lives is not where the glory of good music ends.

As our nation ages and caregivers find ways to cope with the challenges of caring for senior loved ones, music again enters into our daily lives to help us find peace and comfort.

One way we are using music now to our advantage is as therapy, especially for those people diagnosed with dementia. There are some great programs that are bringing music to those who can benefit. Music unlocks something in the mind, reaching parts of the brain that normal communication is unable to penetrate.

Music is stimulating people with dementia, whether they merely listen, toe tap or sing along. Music can improve mood, calm aggression and even improve cognition.

Bringing music to people with dementia, either at home or in a senior living facility, can take various forms. It can be a small band, a harp or guitar, sing-alongs, music on the radio or even on a tablet or mp3 player.

It has been shown and replicated with people around the globe that, even when the ability to communicate through speech is lost, people can recall and sing out old tunes and bring a sense of purpose and presence to the day.

Bring Music Back to Senior Loved Ones

You may be able to help improve the quality of life of your senior loved one by finding opportunities to add music to the day.

  • Play their favorite music during breakfast, perhaps something that is sunny, cheerful and upbeat.
  • Spend some time together singing old favorites such as church hymns, fun tunes like Oh Susannah, or music with meaning that you may have sung together as you did when you were a child.
  • Build playlists on a tablet or MP3 player. Use your senior’s personal music collection or download some of their favorites. Don’t just set up one playlist. Create a variety of playlists for different occasions, such as one that is up tempo, one that is more soothing for use when calming is required, one that is good for sleep or relaxation, one that is instrumental, one that is good for visiting grandchildren or one that is faith based. You are only limited by your imagination and theirs.
  • Play some big band tunes or patriotic tunes to get everyone moving! Use music to help your senior move throughout the day being physically active, keeping joints flexible and muscles strong.
  • Talk about what types of music are their favorites, listen to stories about music in their life, and how music may have shaped their lives. Use music as a means of communication and connection. Did they attend concerts or sing in a choir? Did they play an instrument and can they still enjoy that if you got them one now?

What would our lives be like without music? Could we enjoy a birthday without singing Happy Birthday to You? Would learning our ABCs be as fun without the tune? What about playing games as a child such as Ring Around the Rosy and jump rope rhymes?

Would you miss jammin’ to the tune on the radio in your first car? Would the wedding be as wonderful without the march of the ride? Could we stand with pride during a holiday parade without the Star Spangled Banner, Yankee Doodle or Stars and Stripes Forever?

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”― Friedrich Nietzsche

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”― Bob Marley

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent”― Victor Hugo

How do, or could, you add music to your senior’s life?

We'd love to hear your thoughts!





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