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How music therapy benefits older adults

How music therapy benefits older adults

The therapeutic quality of music shows its effect in five core areas – cognitive, physical, emotional, social and behavioural health


The therapeutic value of music has long been recognised. Experts say music acts as a complementary form of therapy along with mainstream treatment to improve the mood and overall health of older adults as it does for other age groups. “Music therapy works on the reflexes of the body and mind of a person,” Roshan Mansukhani, a music therapist from Mumbai with a decade-long experience, told Happiest Health.

Music therapy makes mainstream medication more effective, claims Mansukhani based on his years of experience working with multiple groups, which include corporate organisations, those suffering from substance use disorder as well as senior citizens, to name a few.

Benefits of music therapy for the elderly

Elaborating on the healing power of music, Assamese lyricist, folklorist and singer Birendra Nath Datta says, “Music heals me.” His wife Ibha Barua Datta adds that music works as a therapy for her husband. “Music keeps my husband mentally active and calm,” she shares.

The only constant in Datta’s life is music, claims the octogenarian himself. Despite having various age-related ailments, at 87, Datta, a Padma Shri award winner, makes it a point to either sing or listen to music daily.

Mansukhani, who is also a professional DJ, on his part has helped many elderly people in their healing process.

Recalling a five-year-old instance, Mansukhani, 50, says after a senior citizen with dementia listened to his music for 15 days at a stretch, it helped him to calm down.

“He was the father of one of my business associates. Because of his condition, he had become anxious and high-strung. My business associate asked me to help her. I recorded a music module. After listening to the music every day and night, the senior citizen’s body language changed for the better. He looked fresher and calmer. Music has healing benefits for both the body and mind. Even hospitals allow music therapists to attend to their in-house patients,” he says.

A 2019 study by the British Academy of Sound Therapy showed that a daily dose of music helps to maintain a healthy body and mind. The study looked into the listening pattern of 7,500 people.

Citing some common ailments among the elderly, Dr Shantanu Tandon, senior ENT surgeon, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru, stated that they mostly have cardiac and neurological conditions.

“They also have conditions like diabetes and arthritis. They also undergo depression, stress, anxiety and live with neurodegenerative conditions like dementia,” Dr Tandon adds.

“Along with listening to music, singing, playing an instrument and even dancing (it could be just movement of the body) — all these help elderly persons to boost their well-being,” Dr Tandon elaborates.

Bengaluru-based music therapist Purvaa Sampath told Happiest Health that music therapy shows its effect in five core areas. “They are cognitive, physical, emotional, social and behavioural health,” she lists out.

Explaining how music therapy works, Sampath says that she engages geriatric population in music. “It includes playing an instrument, singing a song, writing a song and co-creating some kind of music together. All these add physical and mental rhythm into their lives,” she says.

“Music assists them to move their body, which otherwise most elderly do very little. It also aids them to explore and express their feelings. Music also helps to build a safe space for senior citizens where they can process and talk about what they are feeling.”

Roshan blends classical, county music and certain Bollywood (old) music and instrumental music. His idea is to get smile on the faces of elderly people.

“Music helps elders to lighten their mood and heart and gives them more clarity. The idea of music therapy is to bond with yourself and your family. A lot of elderly people picked up their long-lost hobbies after undergoing music therapy,” Roshan reveals.

In a typical session of musical therapy, Roshan makes a person listen to music on an earphone. He let the person relate to the music. After the listener processes the music, he speaks with the person.

“I don’t give solutions. But we talk and work out the solutions,” he adds.

Sampath says that music therapy works as a coping mechanism tool for senior citizens. “It restricts their memory loss or loss of physical strength. Music builds a bond between people going through similar situation (especially in a group therapy).

An elderly woman, living in New Delhi, had a stroke and became unresponsive. A stroke recovery specialist suggested music that she had heard as a child. Her son brought her a collection of bhajans (devotional songs). Soon, she was swaying to the rhythm of the music and began talking to people. This marked her road to recovery.

“Muscle rigidity could be reduced, and flexibility could be brought back by using music and rhythmic entrainment. Rhythmic entrainment is essentially when the body and brain respond to the rhythm. It happens due to the way our brain is structured – like tapping your foot, bobbing your head or snapping your fingers when you listen to music without even being aware of it, adds Sampath.

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