Your Musical Self

Using music to learn, heal, and live

A Musical Gift

Share the Power of Music with your Loved Elder

In my last article, I wrote about a mix CD I made for my Grandpa this past summer. He was sick and I wasn't able to physically be there to help him. But I could help in another way by creating this CD.

Guess what? So can you.

It may seem like a "silly" notion, sending a mix CD. But with some care, thoughtfulness, and purpose, it can be a powerful gift. Why? Mainly because of music's ability to touch our memories and our emotions...and because of our need to find purpose in our life.

It's important for a person to feel like their life had a purpose, to feel like they mattered. It's common, therefore, to reminisce about your life--to think about it, talk about it, or write about it. To remember what happened, who was important to you, and who you were important to. People want to feel like they mattered, want to feel like they made a difference.

The right music can provide a trigger for someone to start remembering these types of events. You hear a song and can be taken back to a person, a place, and a time. The right music can help someone tell their story, even ones they haven't thought of in awhile. But this begs the question...what is the "right" music?

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The Right Music Touches Our Emotional Memories

The first general rule is that the "right" musical songs are pieces that hold a certain emotional significance for the person. Maybe it was the song that was playing when dancing with a first love. Maybe it's a song sung my his mother that comforted him every night. Maybe it's the song played at a wedding.

Sometimes you don't know why the song is important--it just is. My Grandpa loved Claire de Lune and you better believe that song made it on his mix CD.

The RIght Music Helped Form Our Identity

If it's not possible to ask the person about music that holds a certain significance, here's another tip: generally the "right" music is from a time when a person is forming their own identity, a time when they come into their own as a person. When does this typically happen? In your teens and early adult years.

Think of your own experiences--when you hear a song on the radio you heard in high school, don't you tend to have a strong emotional reaction to it (either good or bad)? Doesn't a memory pop into your consciousness? The same is true for your loved on. Choose a song from the person's teen and early adult years and chances are it will trigger a memory and a story.

My Grandpa served in the Merchant Marines as a young man. Even though he didn't talk of it much, those were some of his most formative years. Guess what else was on his CD? The Merchant Marine Anthem.

(As an added bonus, the "right" music has the possibility not only to comfort an ailing loved one, but it can help provide moments of lucidity for someone suffering from dementia. Music can reach those deep parts of ourselves that Alzheimer's and other dementias ravage.)

Follow me on Twitter @KimberlySMoore for daily updates on the latest research and articles related to music, music therapy, and music and the brain. I invite you also to check out my website, www.MusicTherapyMaven.com, for additional information, resources, and strategies.

Kimberly Sena Moore is a board certified music therapist, blogger, and professor at the University of Miami.

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