“Jam Band”: Benefits of Music for Seniors
Posted on June 17, 2014 by Lexie Brown
It’s impossible to imagine a world without music. It’s all around us, and for most people, music holds a special emotional value. Music has been shown to evoke strong responses. For instance, when hearing a song from your past, you often experience the same feelings originally associated with that memory. Actually making music takes the processes in our brains a step further, especially when used to help reach non-musical therapeutic goals.
As human beings, we’re already wired for music. For example, respiration and gait are natural rhythmic patterns that can be incorporated into rhythms found in music. Research shows there isn’t just one “music center” in the brain; music shares neural networks with memory, attention, motor movement, language and executive functioning. All of this helps us understand the way our brain processes music as we age; even if we have a disease or lesion in the brain that affects our motor movements, memory, speech, etc., we can still process music and use it as a tool to re-wire our non-musical neural networks. It is virtually impossible to completely lose music perception and production processes in our brain.
At Atria Inn at Lakewood, our residents have participated in a music therapy program, called Jam Band, for about two years. While it may look like “rocking out” to some, it is more scientific. Each month the residents receive a new assignment and then improvise together on musical instruments to recreate a song or piece of music. We do not read music, but we have an idea of how a song should sound – then we make it up! To our non-musician residents it can seem scary at first, so we’ve adopted the belief that, “it’s not about the performance, it’s about the process.”
What makes this program so successful is the residents’ abilities to anticipate rhythmic cues – and it’s just plain fun! With a solid rhythmic pattern established, residents have the scaffolding on which to play as they choose and still feel successful. Also, music’s non-threatening nature provides a safe environment where residents can work on positive social interactions, such as being a leader or follower, taking turns, eye contact, verbally encouraging others, etc. Again, having fun is key. If this were a boring group, I probably wouldn’t have any participants.
Additional benefits of Jam Band include improved motor skills and coordination, self-esteem, executive functioning and decision-making – all of which are highly important to maintain as we age.
The residents have reported that Jam Band allows them to explore, create, and learn something new and enjoy a positive social experience with their peers. The goal is that the skills we touch on in Jam Band will transfer outside of the music-making group and into our everyday lives.
Lexie Brown, MM, MT-BC, NMT
Engage Life Director, Atria Inn at Lakewood
Board Certified Music Therapist