Have you ever been to an aging care facility and left with the impression that everyone was just waiting to die? Thankfully not every senior living facility leaves this impression. But what causes this feeling in us as we age in a facility that isn’t our traditional home?
Social ties are important for well-being but can be harder to maintain with age. This is especially true for people who have Dementia/Alzheimer’s or other cognitive decline. Research findings suggest that loneliness, neighborhood social cohesion, belonging, religiosity, and spirituality each contribute to health outcomes. But how do you maintain that feeling of belonging when your memory fails? Especially if you’ve had to move somewhere unfamiliar for memory care?
The study of the connection between our mind and body is called Psychoneuroimmunology. Would you believe that our minds may be more powerful than medicine? Let me explain what I mean. There was a study many years ago that researched people with severe gastrointestinal cramping. Two groups were visited by someone dressed like a doctor and they were given “medicine” and told it would stop the cramping. They actually had devices inserted into their bodies that could measure the cramps, so the results weren’t just self-reported. One group got a medication known to help with cramping. They experienced the expected reduction in symptoms. The other group experienced a similar reduction in symptoms. Can you imagine what they were given? It wasn’t a placebo, that would be really impressive though. No, this group was given syrup of ipecac (the stuff designed to GIVE you stomach cramps so you can vomit up something poisonous). So, believing they were getting medicine that would help their symptoms was more powerful than the medicine designed to actually cause those symptoms. That’s amazing, right?!
So, back to our story of how to help someone with Dementia maintain a feeling of belonging and social connection. Music is powerful. When you hear or sing a song that you used to sing in choir, do you remember those earlier, social experiences? What about when you hear a piece of music that was playing when you graduated from school? Do you get a warm and fuzzy feeling when you recall the music playing for other special life events? When you hear music that has a special place in your memory, does it make you feel socially connected? Happy? Of course it does!
Research has demonstrated that the brain rewards our singing (whether or not we sing well) with endorphins, which cause feelings of pleasure, and oxytocin, another hormone known to alleviate anxiety, stress and enhance feelings of trust and bonding. Music has always had a special place in society, yet we are just now truly understanding the significance of its value. Coming together to sing is its own reward for working cooperatively… for social bonding. So how does music help a loved one with Dementia to feel connected, socially bonded? Even if your loved one’s memory is failing, chances are music still connects them with pleasurable memories or social connections. And if the mind-body connection is as powerful as experts think, do you think remembering special social memories will have similar benefits to being there? I believe it will. Contact us to get a free e-book called “The Amazing Brain Hack” to learn more.