Friday, December 9, 2011

Making Music Really Helps the Brain

So often we think of residential homes, particularly skilled nursing facilities, as a place where dreams die. But, of course, those familiar with such places know that isn’t true and that many people learn to make the most of their time there.

That’s why we wanted to share this story in today’s New York Times about an aging musician who came to a Buffalo nursing home after a struggling career as a pianist and discovered a new audience eager to hear and watch him perform.

Music therapy is an important part of our Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers. Not only does it provide a source of entertainment, but it also has been known to improve the quality of life for everyone in the family. It promotes social engagement and often leads to fewer visits to the doctor and less medication.

“Creative expression actually builds capacity in our brains,” says Gay Hanna, Ph.D., the executive director of the National Center for Creative Aging, said during a Webinar yesterday.

Anne Hastings, Ph.D., is director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center on Age and Community. She noted that storytelling in all its forms improves cortisol levels in both caregivers and loved ones. Moods improve and challenging behaviors decline.

“Having a sense of meaning and purpose is a protection against dementia,” she notes.

Engaging in artistic expression – be it the visual or performing arts – can improve brain cell activity and provide an outlet when others appear to be closing in due to dementia. She notes singer Glen Campbell, who this summer publicly announced he had Alzheimer’s. He now has difficulty with daily tasks but can continue to perform on stage.

“The power of the arts is integral to our being as humans,” Dr. Hanna says.

The story of Boyd Lee Dunlop in today’s newspaper demonstrates these principles. It also shows that people can have enriched, satisfying lives well beyond their working years and even after they are unable to age at home anymore. Thank you, Mr. Dunlop, for that note of hope.

Article: Rhythms Flow as Aging Pianist Finds New Audience

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