Chords of Comfort
By: Leena Khan
Songs featuring heavy-hearted country drawl can help mend a broken heart. Dancing in the mirror to energizing top 40 hits can boost feelings of excitement. Flowing classical music can calm nerves and increase focus. Edgy punk rock can amplify motivation and a sense of inclusion. Time after time, we find ourselves pressing the repeat button or shuffling our beloved playlists to help us feel the way we want. Among the many incredible affects music has, we like to turn to our favorite songs for comfort. This can be especially important for those suffering from specific illnesses.
1 in 10 people over 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia, a disease affecting memory and comprehension. As many questions as science can currently answer about the disease, so many more are raised for those who have a loved one suffering from the illness. While research and statistics can provide realistic expectations and hope for some, all research points to one conclusion; there is currently no known way to prevent, slow the progression of, or cure Alzheimer’s, as reported by alzheimers.net. Many cannot afford to be personally be round-the-clock caregivers or hire outside help. Participating in research and trials can be difficult, especially for those already struggling to provide the resources they already do. There is a feeling of helplessness for patients’ loved ones, since patients lose their capability to communicate what they need.
While researchers don’t completely understand why, the portion of the brain that remembers music remains unaffected by Alzheimer’s long after other memories are lost. A simple way to provide comfort to those who may be scared or suffering due to the disease is simply to play their favorite music. Playing calming, familiar music has been known to decrease agitation and sometimes increase lucid states, which is when patients can briefly understand what’s going around them.
There are many ways to incorporate music in a patient’s life. If you’re not sure where to begin, a start might be making a playlist for a loved one with their favorite songs, either on a CD, online, or even an unused iPod shuffle. Not sure what music they like? Think about searching for the top hits from when they were growing up, or asking family members if they remember music from important events in their lives, such as wedding songs. Services like Spotify and Apple Music even provide pre-made playlists of decade hits, as far back as the 1920s.
When picking songs, try to include music that is not startling, sad, or aggressive, as these may cause more discomfort than pleasure. Often, those who respond positively to music recall melodies better than lyrics and words, due to how language is processed. Sticking to upbeat, popular rhythms can improve mood greatly. Patients are even known to retain knowledge of dancing when listening to music they remember! Although it can be a scary and melancholy discussion to have, if Alzheimer’s dementia runs in your family, consider asking members to make playlists of their favorite songs now, and keep names of songs somewhere safe (on an online platform like DropBox or Google Docs, or physically written down, for example) for future use.
You may not have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s but would still like to help others. If you have a knack for playing the guitar or singing, think about obtaining permission to play “oldies” for residents in care facilities. Human connection can be hard to come by in facilities, especially for those who are unable to see their own families often. Donating old CD players with playlists of aforementioned music to play, or old digital music devices with downloaded songs may be an easy way to help too.
If you feel you’re not quite ready to tackle the task of providing a source of music, whether live or a pre-made playlist, there are still ways to be involved in a broader sense. The nonprofit organization Musicians On Call accepts tax-deductible donations. They fund musicians who perform bedside for patients at healthcare facilities, in addition to virtual performances. Musicians On Call also incorporates technology and music in two other programs for those in need, for all ages, and experiencing any type of illness. Along with accepting donations, they also have volunteer opportunities for those desiring to be musicians, but for the less musically talented, volunteer guiding too. Their organization focuses efforts in Chicago, as well as 16 other cities across the United States.
There’s no doubt music can comfort those suffering from an illness experiencing confusion and fear. But more than just helping patients, it helps their families and friends, too. Knowing there is something that can help increase their comfort that is practical to provide and works well, can ease their worries as well.
More information regarding Musicians On Call, including general information, donation information, and volunteer applications can be found at https://MusiciansOnCall.org.
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