Last year Michael Rossato-Bennett's award-winning documentary Alive Inside captured the full extent to which music can be used to polish up elderly minds. The great focus of the film is the dramatic rejuvenating effect that listening to their old favorite songs has on the group of elderly nursing home residents, many of whom are suffering from dementia.
The influence of music is visible from the film's opening scene, when a 90-year-old woman is brought back into her past by listening to songs from her younger years. After initially apologizing to the camera for how little of her earlier life she is able to remember, she is able to speak clearly and passionately about memories from her youth with the aid of music.
And while the film's subjects took great delight in simply being able to recall episodes from earlier years, there were many other conveniences that came from bringing back old memories. In talking about their past, they were able to connect with other nursing home residents and staff members, often using the specific songs as openings for the conversation.
In addition to providing emotional comfort, the music provided a gateway toward interacting meaningfully with others and fostered the social connectivity that experts say is vital to staying happy, especially in old age. These are the types of benefits that can help all seniors, whether they are continuing-care residents or living independently at home, maintain the positive feelings of self-worth that everyone needs to lead a healthy and rewarding life.
If you have a senior family member whose spirit you'd like to lift this winter, try starting a discussion about music. With the advent of the digital age, the rise of audio applications such as iTunes and Spotify, and the growing popularity of internet radio, it has never been easier to connect an elderly loved one with his or her favorite tunes. Hooking a senior family member up with music from their earlier life can provide them with more than pleasant memories of the past - it can also open the door for powerful connections in the present.