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The Power of Music

Feb 19, 2021

This morning, I woke up the song “The Bare Necessities” from Disney’s animated movie The Jungle Book running through my head. As I had breakfast and got ready for work, I hummed and sang and danced along with the song in my head.  I haven’t seen this movie in decades and can’t remember the last time I heard the song.  But, it was there and the fun and joy of the song started me off on a happy note for the day.

Most of us know music can change the way we feel. A 2013 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who listened to upbeat music could improve their moods and boost their happiness in just two weeks. Conversely, studies have found that for some people, sad music can cause negative feelings of profound grief.

“Nothing activates the brain so extensively as music,” said Dr. Oliver Sacks, Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry, Columbia University.

Music Therapy has been found to be extremely effective in working with elders living with dementia. Music therapists who work with patients describe seeing people “wake up” when the sounds of loved and familiar music fills their heads. Often, after months or even years of not speaking at all, they begin to talk again, become more social and seem more engaged by their surroundings. Some begin to remember names long forgotten.

An extraordinary example of the power of music can be seen in a 6-minute video clip of Henry taken from the documentary film “Alive Inside” and found at https://youtu.be/Hlm0Qd4mP-I.  In this video, Henry has lived in a nursing facility for ten years. He appears to be completely withdrawn and is hunched over in his chair. As Henry listens to music, his face lights up, his eyes open wide, and he starts humming and dancing in his chair.  After listening to music, Henry is able to answer questions and tells the interviewer that “Music gives me a feeling of love, romance… I feel band of love, of dreams.”

The Rebecca Center for Music Therapy in New York promotes the use of music therapy to help stimulate communication and memory skills. Its founder, John Carpenter, cites the benefits of music therapy to include:

When used as a sensory and intellectual stimulation, music can help maintain quality of life or even improve it.

Recently, a caregiver talked about using music to help take care of her father and mother, who both have dementia. They listen to Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Patti Page and Louis Armstrong. She plays personalized music for them during caregiving, and calms her father during long doctor visits with an MP3 player and headphones. “For us, this gift of music has been an absolute delight,” she says. “And for me as a caregiver, it has been an absolute lifesaver.”