Ask anyone who is getting older what they wish for in coming years, and most would include staying mentally sharp and maintaining control of their lives. From crossword puzzles to Tai Chi, many activities offer the promise of keeping an aging brain at its best. Now scientists are finding that music works to exercise the brain, as well as helping to improve mood and to reduce stress.
Music therapist Alaina Hogue explains, “I think music is different in that it triggers and lights up so many portions of the brain, and this is something that has been proven by neuroscientists. I think it really accesses your ability to age well mentally, in a different way.” Hogue is one of two music therapists who teach the Pasadena Senior Center’s Music for Wellness class.
Co-teacher Juliana Frias, also a music therapist, adds, “Music is one of those things that supports individuals in aging well because it encourages participation.” For some, participation might mean challenging their brains by learning to play an instrument. Others, like class member Julia Collins, like to use their own voices. “I just love singing,” she explains. “Singing is really important for my soul.” Collins says music is fun, and she looks forward to the class on Mondays because it gives her a reason and a place to sing with people.
The class also gives participants a chance to be creative. Frias says every week they do improvisation, song-making, taking turns playing an instrument as well as singing. The class also plays games such as musical jeopardy and music bingo.
The songs involved in the games and other exercises are particularly important for those whose who are interested in memory help. Frias says listening to, or recalling lyrics involves the brain’s language centers. Hogue agrees, “It is different as far as you are able to keep those musical memories longer than you are other memories.”
Listening to your favorite music can also improve your mood. Class member Shirley Chow Rausch says, “The music, melody, the lyrics and the message that’s given help me to feel good, and I really enjoy it.” She’s been in the Music for Wellness class for three years. Frias says music also helps relieve the stress that older adults and their caregivers often experience.
Both teachers agree that you don’t have to be involved in a class to experience the benefits of music. “It’s never too late. Going to a concert and experiencing live music and actively listening is a great way to exercise the brain. When you are actively listening, you are processing more in the brain.”
The Music for Wellness class is just one of the many opportunities the Center offers to help members age well mentally. There are also classes and clubs that involve dancing and exercise, as well as writing and socializing. Researchers find they all help keep the brain active and engaged.