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Music Therapy Perspectives


Singing has long been credited with a wide variety of physical, mental, and social health benefits (Hunter, 1999). Recent scientific inquiry points to the efficacy of singing toward enhanced cardiovascular and pulmonary performance (Bonilha, Onofre, Vieira, Prado, & Martinex, 2009), verbal communication (Wan, Ruber, Hohmann, & Schlaug, 2010), and immune functioning and attendant affective states (Kreutz, Bongard, Rohrmann, Hodapp, & Grebe, 2004; Kuhn, 2002; Unwin, Kenny, & Davis, 2002).

Among older adults, singing has been linked with improved mood, better quality of life, greater happiness, stress reduction, and emotional well-being (Clift et al., 2010).

In our own work, we have noticed repeatedly the benefits of singing with older adults with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD). Individuals who show signs of hyper-arousal (i.e., restlessness, agitation, and/or purposeless or perseverative behavior) tend to become calmer and more meaningfully involved after just 20 to 30 minutes of active engagement in singing. Individuals who are hypo-aroused (i.e., sleepy, depressed, and/or nonresponsive) tend to become more alert, physically active, and socially interactive by the end of a session in which singing has been a primary focus. In this way, singing appears to serve a regulative function, as posited by Aldridge (2007)—that is, it has the capacity to compose and soothe individuals who are disorganized or anxious and arouse those with abnormally diminished levels of physical and cognitive activity, thereby moving both profiles to more optimal functioning.

Additionally, our perception has been that this improved functioning often ‘‘carries over’’ into other daily activities. These observations regarding singing led us to question whether pre-meal singing might be an efficacious way to combat the malnutrition to which so many individuals with ADRD are vulnerable.

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American Music Therapy Association





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