ARTICLES / General /Music—Magical
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Increasingly despondent, plagued by
an alphabet soup of physical, mental and emotional
ailments, our expanding elderly population is on a
constant lookout for better methods of coping and
obtaining some modicum of comfort, dignity and quality
in their lives as they age.
Music therapy is proving to be of immense value in this
search. Not only can appropriate music improve anxiety,
pain and depression—particularly in older adults—but it
has, remarkably, allowed surgery to proceed with minimal
medication and anesthesia, and even shortened hospital
stays. It is also capable of slowing excessive
heartbeat, lowering blood pressure, relaxing mind and
muscle, and yet can be utilized as a stimulant when
necessary. It all depends on the beat.
My sister, Rosalind Starkman, and I have witnessed the
astonishing effect of music on Alzheimer’s and other
dementia sufferers. Lackluster eyes light up and
habitually unresponsive or, on the other hand, overly
aggressive individuals, become accessible, communicating
with each other and with staff.
In one New York nursing home, musician/entertainer Wally
Childs, brings his moveable keyboard feast to each of 18
units weekly, where his visits are eagerly anticipated.
After his session concludes, the atmosphere and mood
remain lighter for both the audience and the caretakers.
A wheelchair-bound man, long unable to speak, silently
mouths every word of a song Wally plays; evidently it
holds some special meaning for him, freeing up
long-buried memories for that brief interlude. Asked to
sing along, or to play simple instruments, many people
find lost functions revitalized through this warm, human
connection. More potent than Prozac, with no side
effects, it is far less expensive or invasive than
pharmaceutical solutions. It not a panacea or substitute
for necessary traditional treatment, however, but an
adjunct that works wonders with those receptive to its
amazing healing power.
The important factor appears to be the choice of
selections or rhythm. Old popular songs from the forties
and fifties are enjoyed and appreciated by those young
during that era, but semi-classical and Latin rhythms
also win fans. Alzheimer’s patients are particularly
soothed by New Age music. It takes special involvement,
patience and understanding—traits abundantly possessed
by this musician—to select just what to play for whom.
We have seen the power of music transcend afflictions of
all kinds. We have been able, following a musical
session, to persuade our mother, 101 years old next
month, to remember songs from her Russian childhood and
actually sing the words with great expression,
translating them for us line by line.
Families can benefit and similar results can be obtained
in the home setting by playing either music that speaks
to the person of pleasant past experiences, or, if
unfamiliar, creates a safe, non-threatening haven where
self-expression is encouraged.