If “The Star-Spangled Banner” gives you goosebumps, “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” warms your heart and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” conjures up happy memories of homeruns and hot dogs, you’ve experienced the power of music.
But wait, it gets better. According to research, music helps those who have lost the ability to speak due to stroke recover their words. Elderly dementia patients who can’t recognize family members consistently respond to familiar tunes. And seniors aged 60 to 83 who began playing an instrument in childhood and played for at least 10 years, scored better on neurological and memory tests than those who played less or not at all. Musicians also seem to experience less hearing loss as they age.
So how does music weave its memorable magic? By involving cognitive, emotional and motor areas of the brain, according to noted neurologist Oliver Sacks. This makes music a very effective way to learn, as anyone who mastered their letters by singing “The Alphabet Song” knows. Indeed, the capacity for music often outlasts language, movement and memory in people afflicted with dementia, amnesia, and Parkinson’s disease.
“Music is no luxury to (Alzheimer’s disease patients), but a necessity, and it can have a power beyond anything else to restore them to themselves, and to others, at least for a while,” Sacks wrote in “Musicophilia,” his 2007 book about music and the human brain.
One explanation for its staying power is that music triggers nostalgia which, although sometimes bittersweet, arouses feelings of love and well-being in listeners. In one study, nostalgic memories prompted subjects to literally experience a warm glow.
There are many ways to bask in that glow, including listening to a favorite radio station, learning how to use an iPod or other device filled with meaningful songs, or enjoying musical performances and concerts. Local venues such as North Central College’s acoustically excellent Wentz Hall, Friday night summer concerts on Naperville’s Riverwalk and concerts at the city’s Millennium Carillon provide individuals with good music, plus social and psychological benefits that contribute to a sense of well-being.
Closer to home, Monarch Landing’s Artist Series brings in professional performers from around the world for the entertainment of residents and the public. The big-band sound of the Del Bergeson Orchestra, girl group Leaders of the Pack and one of the nation’s premiere ventriloquists, David Pendleton, are among the acts set to appear in 2017.
Vocal music is also popular at Monarch Landing, where dozens of residents participate in the community’s choir. That’s another great way to benefit from the magic of music, according to a study, which found that elderly choir members experienced less loneliness, better morale and fewer doctor visits and falls.