By Eve Montague
The arts are truly for everyone. In my years as a musician and a therapist, I have discovered that each of us responds to certain songs and visuals with a memory flash, or a toe-tap, or a story about what we were doing when we first heard that song or saw that piece of art. In recent years, research has explored the benefits of structured arts engagement in the areas of health and wellness, especially with the aging population.
Wellness – it is not merely the absence of illness, disease, or infirmity. Wellness is a lifelong process of becoming aware and making choices toward a more balanced and fulfilling life. Research affirms that engagement in structured, community-based arts programs has the power to increase feelings of wellbeing, while decreasing feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and pain.
In 2006, a landmark study by geriatric psychiatrist Dr. Gene D. Cohen of George Washington University, showed that people 65 and older who engaged in structured community-based arts programs, had fewer trips to the doctor, used fewer medicines, fell less, expressed less loneliness, and were more active than the control group. Dr. Oliver Sacks, well known for his studies of music and the brain, strongly advocated for music and music therapy interventions with patients significantly withdrawn from dementia and Alzheimer’s. “Music is no luxury to [these patients], but a necessity, and can have a power beyond anything else to restore them to themselves, and to others, at least for a while.” Concluded Dr. Sacks in Musicophelia: Tales of Music and the Brain.
We also know that the current research on the brain, and on Alzheimer’s and dementia, indicate that activities that access all areas of the brain can help individuals retain and maintain cognitive functioning. Music is one tool that re-paths in the brain when areas begin to shut down because of trauma, illness, and age. As a music therapist, I have the privilege of working with families living with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases. In my group work, I have seen the power of music and the impact it has had on families.
I vividly remember a moment, just four years ago, that provided me with a moment of awe, even after doing this for 30 years. The husband of one of my group members attended every session with his wife, hoping to glimpse just a bit of the woman he knew was still inside. Her disease had progressed to where she no longer spoke and barely engaged in physical activity. One day I asked them to share a drum while we sang and I played a 1950’s style tune. Both began to play and as the music continued, the wife looked at her husband and said “Hello Sam, how good to see you.” They continued to converse for some time and they left the group hand in hand. The music provided ‘Sam’ with a gift that helped ease his pain and loneliness.
Here at South Shore Conservatory (SSC), we use the creative arts to work with older adults, some of whom are facing physical or cognitive challenges. While we work with a variety of abilities, our focus is on wellness, maintenance of skill, and quality of life. We know that engagement, access, and enjoyment are the building blocks for arts integration in our maturing lives. Within our Creative Arts Therapies department, we offer music, art, dance, and yoga. We are able to tailor the arts to meet the need of each person, meeting them where they are on that day.
Mindfulness, relaxation, breathing, exploration of creativity, reduction of stress and increase in self-expression, enhancement of memory, and improved communication – all these can be reinforced through the creative arts. Creative Arts Therapies at SSC begins with wellness and supports individuals on this ever-changing journey of life
About the Author
Eve Monatague, MT-BC, is Director of Creative Arts Therapies for the South Shore Conservatory. You can reach her at 781-934-2731, x20. For more information about South Shore Conservatory’s Creative Arts Therapies, contact Eve Montague, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://sscmusic.org
Reprinted from the November 2017 edition of the South Shore Senior News