By Genevieve Scott, MT-BC, Abe’s Garden Life Engagement Coordinator and Music Therapist
The power of music at Abe’s Garden is no secret to staff, residents, and families. Walking down the hall, you can hear residents singing, see duos dancing, and feel the music bringing out the joy in whoever hears. But what is it that makes music so accessible across generations, abilities, and backgrounds?
Decades of studying music and the brain have shown that we are biologically built to experience music. While many essential human experiences such as speaking, tasting, or moving are processed in one specific part of the brain, music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain and even into the brain stem where our most primitive actions such as breathing are processed. The brain stem is also where the body’s regulatory functions happen, so many speculate music’s connection to that area of the brain is why music is successful in soothing a person from the very beginning through to the very end of life.
Music is also a powerful tool for connecting with emotions. When a person is sad, listening to deep and heavy blues can validate that feeling and help them feel less alone. When a person is nostalgic, listening to music from an impactful time of their life can bring them back and help them connect with that moment. If a person is joyful, dancing and singing can help them express that in a way that is accessible. Living with dementia can spur a range of emotions and the progressing disease can make conversation, writing, or regular means of expression difficult. Music is always age appropriate and allows an outlet for expression with minimal frustration because we are built to experience music just as we are built to breathe.