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The Power of Music: Sounds That Heal

Caregivers can use music to make a difference in the lives of those with Alzheimer's Disease and other challenges like depression, autism, brain injury and more

Music Therapy caregiver caregivers alzheimers unforgettables singing headphones ears

Josephine Gruder (above) is a caregiver for her husband Herman, who suffers from Alzheimer's. — Photo by Simon Biswas

En español | The field of music therapy formally debuted in 1950, but has only recently gained many fans, including hospitals, adult day care and senior centers, and nursing homes. Health care professionals often refer patients to music therapists — the country has more than 6,000 music therapists nationally certified through the American Music Therapy Association and they can help you find one in your area. Health workers are also using music to treat a long list of conditions: depression, Tourette's syndrome, Huntington's disease, autism, Parkinson's disease, stroke, brain injury and cardiac disease. It can be part of pain management and cancer treatments.

Visit AARP’s HealthLawFacts.org for detailed information about the health care law.

Lately, researchers have focused on how music can benefit those with Alzheimer's. Anecdotal evidence shows that music can tap memories and reduce anxiety, pain, heart rate and blood pressure. It can help accelerate healing, boost learning, improve neurological disorders and increase social interaction.

Research on how exactly music works on the brain is still in its infancy, but is suggesting that it may improve specific function such as speech and movement.

If you're taking care of someone who has difficulty moving or speaking, music can easily be incorporated into your daily caregiving routine. Music therapists offer these suggestions:

Select familiar songs

Most people remember music from childhood or when they were in their 20s. Does Mom love opera or show tunes? What songs make her dance?

After former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in January 2011 and suffered brain damage, she was unable to speak. But her mother knew her favorite songs — "American Pie," "Brown Eyed Girl," "Over the Rainbow" — and along with Giffords' dad, husband and music therapist, surrounded her with the music she loved.

"Gabby could sing several words in a phrase, but couldn't put a three-word sentence together on her own," says her music therapist, Maegan Morrow, of TIRR Memorial Hermann hospital in Houston. Morrow had her sing her needs, such as "I want to go to bed" or "I'm tired." Help your loved one recall words by singing part of a familiar song and having her finish the line with you, or alone.

A PLAYLIST FOR YOU:

Find one of our Spotify playlists just below. You'll have to join the free service Spotify to hear the playlist on your desktop. On your mobile device, if you have the Spotify App installed, but aren't a member of the "premium" service, you'll hear the song you choose and others like it, but not the complete playlist. More on joining Spotify, and creating and sharing playlists here, along with the four other playlists we made to get you started.

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