The Transformative Power of Music for the Elderly

The holidays are a time where romances are rekindled, sweethearts become spouses, and the desire for connectedness becomes strong. Music is one of those powerful things that kickstarts these sorts of deep emotions and feelings. Imagine the transformative power that listening to Rosemary Clooney’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” has on an elderly WWII veteran. What was a sullen, bitter old man has turned into a dapper, exciting fellow who is itching to reminisce about the good ol’ days. Let’s take a look to see what benefits music has on our elderly.

Music can trigger memories long lost in an elderly person’s mind. Watch the story of Henry, featured here in the trailer to Music and Memory’s documentary, “Alive Inside.” He is “quickened” by music, and a normally mute and downtrodden man is transformed.

Music can rekindle a passion or feeling from days past. Music can spark old feelings of excitement of youth, of testing limits, and of happier times in the elderly. They have a life full of memories, passions, and ideas, and with music, can rediscover what magnificent people they are.

Music can help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients gain improved quality of life. One in eight elderly persons has Alzheimer’s Disease.  Music has been found in one study to be a positive step in reducing agitation and frustration in the daily life of elderly people with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. When given an opportunity to listen to their preferred music, agitated behavior was reduced. Other studies also note that dementia patients have shown improved cognition, communication skills, and relational skills when listening to or making music.

Music can help the elderly preserve or reclaim a sense of identity. Former concert pianist Lucien Leinfelder spent a career wowing audiences on grand stages performing concertos and show-stopping encores. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1999, and even though the disease has affected his movements, he takes two hours a day to practice at the piano. Music has been a constant part of his identity since first taking lessons at age three, so to stop playing would be to deny who he is as a person. As a way to preserve or reclaim identity, reintroduce music as a part of your elderly loved one’s care.

So this holiday season, take an hour or so to visit your cherished elderly loved ones, or go make some new friends at the local nursing home. Bring an iPod and headphones with you, or perhaps a CD player and some old CDs. Explore their world with a beautiful soundtrack. Listen to the stories they tell, and discover who they are as human beings.

I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day and through

–verse from “I’ll Be Seeing You,” song by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Irving Kahal

Sound Off: What music or songs trigger memories in your life? Can you think of a particular piece that brought about a joyful emotion? 


Click to access Facts_Figures_2011.pdf

Rosemary Clooney – I’ll Be Seeing You

Alive Inside Film of Music and Memory Project – Henry’s Story