Sing Your Way to Joy: Music Therapy Benefits for Seniors

music therapy songs for older adults | A serene scene of an elderly man in a music listening therapy session AI

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Have you ever noticed how a familiar song can instantly transport you back to a cherished moment in your life? Music has a remarkable way of unlocking memories and stirring up emotions.

This is especially powerful for our parents or grandparents.

Music therapy taps into this potential, using music to potentially improve seniors’ physical health, cognitive function, and overall well-being. This accessible form of therapy is safe, enjoyable (especially over a cup of tea!), and carries no negative side effects.

In this guide, we’ll provide a playlist of beloved songs perfect for sharing with a family member and ideas for enjoying music together in ways that might uplift their spirits.

How Music Therapy Works

music therapy songs for older adults | An elderly man, around 75 years old wearing wireless earbuds AI

Music has a unique way of tapping into different parts of our brains. Unlike many activities, it engages areas responsible for movement, emotion, memory, and more. This is why music therapy can be so beneficial, especially for those experiencing cognitive changes.

Plus, a little lively music in the background might even inspire some spontaneous dancing – a fun way to sneak in some cardio!

Improves Attention and Memory

Imagine your loved one recalling names more easily, rediscovering the joy of a favorite song, or feeling more present in conversations. That’s the power of active music therapy.

A 2020 study showed that singing and playing instruments led to significant improvements in attention and memory for those with mild cognitive changes. This translates into smoother daily interactions, renewed connection with cherished memories, and a greater sense of engagement with the world around them.

Additionally, researchers suggest music therapy aligns with the ‘entertainment theory,’ which proposes that enjoyable experiences that engage multiple senses may have protective effects on brain health.

Enhances Emotional Well-being

For those facing cognitive changes, the power of familiar melodies is especially significant.

Research shows that music from a person’s past triggers positive memories, increases engagement, and boosts overall well-being. Think of the joy that can come from reconnecting with a beloved song – a spark of recognition, a smile, even singing or humming along.

For those living with dementia, music therapy offers a lifeline.

A 2011 study demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing agitation and anxiety. Calming rhythms or a gentle melody can soothe restless feelings or help create a safe and comforting environment amidst the confusion that dementia can bring.

Encourages Social Interaction

Music has a special power to bring people together, especially across generations.

Research shows that music therapy can create meaningful connections between those with dementia and their loved ones, even grandchildren.

Singing familiar songs, playing simple instruments together, or even just sharing a favorite melody can spark shared smiles, a sense of closeness, and build precious memories that transcend the challenges of cognitive decline.

Provides Accessible Enjoyment
Even as dementia progresses, the ability to enjoy and respond to music often remains remarkably intact.

Music therapy offers a special form of enjoyment accessible at all stages. Whether it’s the gentle sway to a familiar tune, the tapping of a foot, or a smile of recognition sparked by a beloved melody, music provides moments of pure joy and connection, even amidst the challenges of cognitive decline.

Choosing the Right Tunes

While music therapy offers incredible benefits, selecting the right tunes is crucial to maximizing its impact. Here’s how to create a musical experience that resonates deeply with your loved one:

Put Preferences First

The best starting point is always your loved one’s unique taste. What songs or artists have they always enjoyed? Did they love to dance, or sing in a choir? Tapping into personal preferences sparks the strongest emotional connections and engagement.

Time Travel with Music

Think about the era when your loved one was in their teens and twenties. Music from those formative years holds special significance. Popular songs from their youth can be incredibly powerful in evoking positive memories and emotions.

Match the Mood & Goal

Consider the desired outcome.

  • For relaxation: Choose calming melodies, gentle tempos, and perhaps even nature sounds.
  • For movement: Upbeat rhythms and familiar tunes can encourage dancing, tapping, or chair exercises.
  • For reminiscing: Focus on old favorites that might trigger specific memories or stories.

Don’t be afraid to experiment! Observe your loved one’s responses. A smile, a tapping toe, or a few hummed notes are all signs you’re on the right track.

Song Lists for Every Mood and Goal

music therapy songs for older adults | elderly woman enjoying classical music AI

Songs to Spark Joy and Sing Along

Think of classic singalong songs that almost everyone knows, regardless of their usual musical taste. These tunes are likely to bring a smile and encourage participation.

Examples include:

  • You Are My Sunshine
  • Take Me Out to the Ballgame
  • When the Saints Go Marching In
  • She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain
  • This Land is Your Land

Music to Soothe the Soul

When the goal is relaxation, opt for gentle melodies, soothing instrumentals, and the peaceful sounds of nature. Relaxing music can create a sense of calm and well-being.

Consider classical pieces like:

  • Pachelbel’s Canon in D
  • Debussy’s Clair de Lune
  • Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

Collections of soft instrumental music (harp, piano, or nature-inspired themes) are also wonderful. If your loved one finds them comforting, include familiar hymns or spiritual songs.

Songs to Get Moving

Choose songs with a strong, steady beat that makes you want to tap your feet or move your body.

Think about marches, polkas, upbeat Motown hits like:

  • “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra
  • “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra
  • “My Way” by Frank Sinatra
  • “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby
  • “Swinging on a Star” by Bing Crosby
  • “Que Sera, Sera” by Doris Day
  • “Sentimental Journey” by Doris Day
  • “Crazy” by Patsy Cline
  • “Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline
  • “I Fall to Pieces” by Patsy Cline
  • “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley
  • “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley
  • Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley
  • “Hey Jude” by The Beatles
  • “Yesterday” by The Beatles
  • “Let It Be” by The Beatles

The goal is to inspire light exercise or playful dancing! If these songs don’t have grandma tapping her clogs, then look for an album that was released in her heydays.

Blasts from the Past

The most powerful memory triggers are often songs from a person’s teenage years and early adulthood. Focus on the popular singers and genres of their era. Think:

  • “Fly Me to the Moon” by Frank Sinatra
  • “Swinging on a Star” by Bing Crosby
  • “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra
  • “Que Sera, Sera” by Doris Day
  • “I Fall to Pieces” by Patsy Cline
  • “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley
  • “My Way” by Frank Sinatra
  • “Hey Jude” by The Beatles
  • “Let It Be” by The Beatles

…the list goes on! Online resources can help you find top hits from specific decades.

Activities to Enhance the Experience

Music on its own is powerful, but pairing it with other activities can deepen the experience, offer new avenues for expression, and create lasting memories.

Here are a few ideas:

Simple movement and dance

  • Chair Dancing: Gentle swaying, arm movements, or tapping feet to the beat all add an element of fun and exercise.
  • Partnered Movement: If your loved one is able, try simple steps like a waltz or a basic two-step to a favorite slow song.
  • Freeform Expression: Let the music inspire them! There’s no wrong way to move when the goal is joy and self-expression.

Instrument playing

  • Rhythm Makers: Shakers, tambourines, bells, or even clapping along with the music offer a way to participate and boost coordination.
  • DIY Band: Gather household items like pots, pans, and wooden spoons for a playful kitchen band session.
  • Explore Apps: Technology offers fun instrument apps accessible to those with limited mobility.

Songwriting based on memories

  • Rewrite the Lyrics: Take a familiar tune and write new lyrics about a specific memory (a childhood home, a favorite trip, etc.). This sparks both reminiscence and creativity!
  • Melody as Inspiration: If writing’s a challenge, simply let the music evoke a memory, and encourage your loved one to describe the feelings and images that come to mind.

Combining music with art or storytelling

  • Musical Drawing: Play calming music and provide paper and crayons. Encourage them to draw whatever the music makes them feel.
  • Soundtrack to a Memory: Choose a song that reminds them of a specific event. Ask them to tell the story of that memory while the music plays – it sets a beautiful mood.

Focus on enjoyment, not skill! These music activities for seniors are about expression and connection, not musical perfection. Getting their mind active and keeping them engaged through sheer enjoyment alone is already a huge benefit!

Music therapy offers a powerful way to enhance the lives of seniors. From sparking memories to reducing anxiety and promoting social connection, the benefits are undeniable.

Whether it’s singing along to old favorites, trying a simple instrument, or simply listening to soothing melodies, encourage your loved one to experience the joy of music.

If you’re interested in a more structured approach, consider seeking out a qualified music therapist in your area. Remember, music has the ability to uplift and inspire at any age – let its power bring light to your loved one’s life.

Rediscover the Rhythm of Life at 12 Oaks

12 Oaks is more than just a place to live – it’s a thriving community where connection, joy, and well-being are at the heart of everything we do.

Music has a special power to bring people together, and at 12 Oaks, it’s woven into the fabric of our lifestyle. From our lively activity rooms to our beautiful outdoor courtyards, 12 Oaks provides the perfect spaces for musical moments to enhance every day.

We believe in nurturing the creative spirit! Whether it’s a resident-led choir, an impromptu jam session, or simply the chance to share a love of music with new friends, 12 Oaks encourages seniors to flourish not just physically, but creatively and socially as well.

If you have questions about what music therapy can do for your senior family members or any topics discussed here, connect with us and learn more.

At 12 Oaks, our team of caring professionals is dedicated to keeping residents safe, engaged, and connected to their families and friends while leading fulfilling lives. 12 Oaks senior living communities are an ideal place to enjoy the encore season of life.

For questions or to schedule a personalized tour, don’t hesitate to contact us.


Searching for senior living help? At 12 Oaks Senior Living, we would love to learn more about your unique needs and the opportunity we may have to help you meet them. Our blog is one of the valuable resources we provide to inform and encourage seniors to lead fulfilling and thriving lives. Contact us today to schedule a visit.

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