Music and Brain Health

music therapy alzheimers

A reader wants to know: “What are some of the benefits of music on our brain as we age?”

Here’s an answer from Dr. Amy Clements-Cortes, senior music therapist at Baycrest:

Music has many benefits. It can help reduce stress, improve our mood, connect us to our memories and encourage social activity — all of which are important in keeping our brains healthy and our spirits alive.

Here are some reasons to add music to your life:

Elevate your mood
Listening to music we like can positively affect our mood. Research shows that engaging in musical activities releases endorphins, chemicals produced in the brain, causing the same good feelings or natural “high” that people have after a run or other type of exercise.

Relieve your pain
Music is considered “the drug without side effects.” Endorphins also act as the body’s natural pain reliever. Music has the ability to reduce pain perception whether through the release of endorphins or by diverting attention away from the pain and encouraging relaxation.

Reduce stress
Numerous clinically based studies support the use of music as an effective way to decrease anxiety, blood pressure and heart rate.

Remember the good old days
Music can trigger long-term memories. Certain songs can take you back to a particular incident or happy time in your life. Think of the song that you danced to at your wedding. It will bring back memories of that special day and perhaps many of the emotions that were present.

As well, background music has been proven to be effective in helping to recall autobiographical details.

Stay sharp
If you learnt to play an instrument when you were younger, try picking it up again. You may be surprised by how much you remember. Like riding a bike, playing a musical instrument involves using your procedural memory, which you do not lose with age.

Playing an instrument also keeps you sharp because it involves the coordination of many parts of your body to do so. The necessary eye-hand co-ordination and reading of music stimulate the brain.

Join a choir or drumming circle. This is a great way to meet new people, socialize and give you a sense of belonging — all of which are important as we age. Drumming is not only fun, but there are proven health benefits. Entire programs have been designed based on scientific evidence that drumming enhances well-being.

Get a good night’s sleep
If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, slow music targeted at a certain beat can help slow down brain waves to help them synchronize with your heart and breathing rates. This slowing of the body’s processes helps prepare the body for sleep.

Photo © YinYang


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Article courtesy of  Baycrest, the global leader in innovations for aging.