The protagonist of a novel described her mother’s descent into dementia as, “The memories are there but she’s lost the index card, so 1925 is not much different than 2012.”
For the more than five million elders currently living with dementia, music is that index card.
As Kensington Park Senior Living music therapist Melissa Pate says, “Music is a universal language that connects us all to each other, but it is also powerful in a way that it is able to connect us to ourselves.”
Whether someone is an active independent senior, lives in our assisted living community, or in one of our customized memory care neighborhoods, Kensington Park is known for integrating music and creative arts into our residents’ daily lives.
The Relationship Between Music and Memory
“Music ignites more parts of the human brain than any other stimulus: emotional, cognitive (with lyrics), rhythmic movement. Think of it this way: you’re in your mother’s belly with your head up against a drum for nine months. Babies come out laughing in the same cadence as their mother. Music is innate,” explains Michael Rossato-Bennett, the writer/director/producer of a groundbreaking documentary, Alive Inside!, which depicts the effects of music on elders with dementia.
People with dementia lose their forebrain; what a senior is left with is the deeper emotional systems, Rossato-Bennett explains. “They’re still emotionally alive inside. Their heart remembers. Music is this channel that allows us to dive into our emotional beings. It exists in our DNA, but it’s put together by using all of our brains.”
When staff put headphones connected to an iPod filled with songs from his youth on 94-year-old Henry, who had been unresponsive for a decade, pathways in his brain lit up. He became animated, talking, singing, and reciting poetry. This man, who had been inert, said joyously, “Music gives me the feeling of love! I feel a band of love, dreams.”
Deeper Connection Across the Generations
The human population pyramid has morphed. For millennia, it consisted of very few elders on top and a wide swath of young people on the bottom. Everything flowed from this relationship.
The pyramid has become a rectangle, and for the first time in history, a one-to-one relationship between old and young is here. “It isn’t just, how do I find meaning as I become older: this is a shift in the environment that our species in inhabiting,” Rossato-Bennett explains.
He’s connecting disenfranchised young people with disenfranchised older people, and “the explosive magic that happens when we put them together” is the subject of his upcoming film sequel, “Alive Inside 2”.
Elders want to engage across the life spectrum, not just with people their own age. Pairing young and old allows youngsters to positively affect older adults, possibly for the first time in their lives, and the mutual benefits can be profound. One ten-year-old girl Rossato-Bennett filmed said, “It was so amazing to me, to be with someone (the senior) who paid attention to only me.”
He affirms, “We’re just beginning the awakening that is possible.”
Tweaking the Aging Brain
This infographic indicates how the brain changes over time, and what we can do to slow the decline. Like Alive Inside, businesses, especially in the tech sector, are imagining new ways to reach beyond dementia to contact the person within, often incorporating music, such as this tablet app from Grey Matters.
And sometimes, the connection between old and young has less to do with mental impairment than lifestyle. That’s what prompted 82-year-old Patrick O’Halloran, a former Jesuit priest and clinical psychologist, to connect beyond his cohort group: “I need to talk to Millennials,” he says. “At the senior center, I can sit down and schmooze, talk about jitterbugging. But it’s all the same perspective.”
O’Halloran reached out as a result of a bad habit: letting the mail (and bills) pile up. He heard about an intergenerational connectivity platform, signed up, and the first volunteer, a student at a nearby university, arrived with three of her friends.
O’Halloran ordered pizza, and the quartet spent the day swapping stories. “It’s really fun, to be able to go back and forth like that,” O’Halloran says. “I have something to give and share, and I have something to gain.”
Meet Japan’s Granny Pop Band
In Japan, which has earned a reputation as “land of the immortals,” seniors take singing to a whole new level. An all-female pop band, whose members’ average age is 84, prove that music is indeed a magical elixir. The granny band’s oldest member is a centenarian.
The members of KBG48 attribute their high energy to what the Japanese refer to as “Ikigai“: a sense of life. Joining a choir that meets for regular rehearsals, and ideally performs, even if just for the local community, can create a renewed feeling of purpose and ignite the passion an elder may have misplaced after retirement.
In fact, music “youthifies” in a way even young people revere, as millennial Nicole Duggan explains in this piece about how entrepreneurship is becoming ageless. She went to see Stevie Nicks (former lead singer of Fleetwood Mac) and The Pretenders in concert on a double bill, and writes, “Although I could say they looked and sang as if they were still 20-something, I wouldn’t dare. If I did, I would be making their experiences as musicians, professionals, and human beings, over the last five decades, almost obsolete.”
“Their age didn’t come with them, they brought it. They put it in front of the crowd and said ‘age is a state of mind’ and there, right at that stage, was the proof.”
“If I learned something that night it was that there is no perfect time, no perfect age, to create. Imagination, inspiration, initiative, come at all ages.” What valuable awareness to gain early on.
Creative Arts Keep Creativity Alive
Along with music, creative arts are a boon for those with memory loss, as well as for any senior living resident who wants to stay mentally sharp.
For instance, Stagebridge, the nation’s oldest and most renowned theatre company comprised of seniors, says their mission is “to transform the lives of older adults and their communities through the performing arts. Stagebridge’s unique position as a theatre company ‘for and of’ seniors demonstrates in action the many ways in which elders enrich our culture and our communities.”
At Kensington Park, Arts for the Aging (AFTA) brings its nationally recognized creative programming to our assisted living and memory care residents. Partnering with AFTA beautifully complements The Kensington’s ability to foster choice, encourage independence, enrich each day, and engage your loved one, friends, and family members in vibrant activities that nurture their growth and well being.We look forward to showing you and your loved one around our well-appointed tree-lined campus, and discovering how Kensington Park Senior Living can best meet your needs.