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A quick google search can bring you any number of articles, stories, or videos about how music can and does benefit people across all populations, not excluding those who are aging or who have disabilities like those we support here at the Arc. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America says that, “When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and coordinate motor movements.” Madeformovement.com states “It can be relaxing, spark certain feelings and increase quality of life. For people with disabilities, music has several advantages and can help to develop mental, physical and social abilities.” And who hasn’t seen the video of the old man in the nursing home reacting to hearing music from his era on an ipod? Or the one where the little girl plays guitar for her baby brother with downs syndrome? (If you haven’t, check them out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKDXuCE7LeQ and here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RySM_r5jWH8). Music is clearly a very powerful tool across all walks of life.
I am not a music therapist; I cannot speak to the physiological processes that occur inside the brain of a person with dementia or intellectual disabilities while they are experiencing music. I do not create goals or treat people who could improve their physical, emotional, cognitive or social skills. But I can tell you what it is I get to see every day in my work: a woman, quiet, lost in the deep dark recesses of her mind, springs to life upon hearing her favorite song and sings full voice, in perfect tune with as much, if not more enthusiasm than Diana Ross herself. A man, who struggles to form sentences or answer even the simplest of questions that can sing every single word to “King of the Road” in perfect time. A woman who moves and dances with reckless abandon any time the song “The Power” is played. A man who cries for better times when he hears a song that reminds him of his past and he whispers “that’s an old timers song” in my ear. A woman, who normally lacks any sense of self-esteem, that can get up in front of a large group of her peers and belt out “Take Me Home, Country Roads” like nobody’s business. The uncontrollable anticipation every member of my bell choir has for each and every rehearsal and the absolute unbridled enthusiasm they have for performing in a concert. The wild, passionate love so many of the people we support have for Elvis Presley.
I say I like to call what I do “music enrichment”. I hope and try every day to enrich the lives of the people at Ballantyne with the musical activities I provide. But in reality, it is their response to the music that enriches me. Music brings out the best in all people, and I am incredibly lucky to experience that with the individuals we support here at the Arc.
Melissa Davis is the Music Specialist at the Arc of Monroe’s Ballantyne Day Service location.