Saturday, May 5, 2012

Take two Music Lessons in the Golden Years

As Americans get older, healthcare becomes more challenging. It's a fact that due to recent advances in medicine, people are living longer. The challenging issue however, is that our nation's elderly are not living healthier.
Simply stated, longevity does not equate with quality of life.

It's obvious that as we grow older, our healthcare needs are likely to increase substantially. In fact, they're already outstripping our conventional resources.
The challenges of aging extend far beyond the concept of disease management. While it's no surprise that the incidence of illnesses such as heart attacks, strokes, cancer and lung disease increase with age, other factors also serve to negatively impact well-being. Isolation, anxiety, depression, loneliness and boredom and tend to accelerate disease processes and worsen quality of life.ÊAs a result, healthcare utilization rises proportionately with age.
Few people would argue that conventional medical approaches do not serve to adequately address the needs of the elderly which are to a significant degree created by social and emotional factors. Prescriptions for antidepressants do little to chip away at such problems. Actually, this approach provides limited long-term value for it's excessive cost.
While you might be thinking that isolation, anxiety, depression, loneliness and boredom are impossible to control in an aging society, why not take a few moments to consider some exciting research findings recently presented at the World Congress of Music Therapy by the National Association of Music Manufacturers (NAMM). A workshop was held which focused on research conducted by Frederick Tims, PhD, MT-BC, Chair of Music Therapy at Michigan State University and associates.
The project entitled, Music Making and Wellness, included 130 retirees in Michigan and Florida. Roughly half the group participated in what is termed, "Wellness-enhanced Keyboard Lessons" held in a group setting at Fletcher Music Centers over a period of 20 weeks. Each session, conducted by a music therapist, included a short warm-up stress-reduction exercise followed by group keyboard lessons.
When the music making group was compared with a control group that did not participate in music lessons, it became obvious that numerous health benefits occurred. In summary, anxiety, depression and loneliness diminished significantly for those taking keyboard lessons when compared with the control group. Human Growth Hormone, a factor associated with the aging process also increased.
While the results of this study are less than surprising, there are a number of very important lessons that are critical to the well-being of an aging society.
First and foremost, the negative health impact of loneliness and isolation can be countered by group support and nurturing. Numerous investigations have supported this observation. The act of simply getting people out of their homes, away from the confines of 4 walls and a television set promotes well-being. In a society that tends to discard the elderly, isolation clearly contributes to depression and dis-ease. Positive social interaction is a healing elixir.
When one breaks down the key elements of this study, the concept of linking a wellness activity to an educational process is no less than brilliant. Developed under the direction of Dr. Alicia Clair, Director of Music Therapy at the University of Kansas, the introductory mind-body component was initiated to help subjects relax, settle in, reestablish inner balance and promote heightened mental focus.
What a wonderful prelude to learning!
And learning is the fuel for exercising one's mind in a manner that contributes to personal meaning, purpose and youthfulness. When we cease to expand our horizons, everything seems to cave in. Yet when we're stimulated to learn something new in an enjoyable fashion, a part of us opens to new possibilities, and life becomes worth living again. It's time we realized the mind is a terrible thing to waste at any age.
I'm also convinced that creative expression is one of the principal elements for staying young and healthy. As a physician dedicated to whole person care, I've enjoyed the unique opportunity to observe a fascinating spark that magically returns to our patients who are engaged in the process of making music. For group participants, it reduces tension, heightens camaraderie, builds often-needed self-esteem and enhances the healing process.
The concept of prescribing keyboard lessons for individuals in their golden years may be a far more important and cost-effective healthcare strategy than ever imagined. The goal is not to create virtuosos, but rather to empower people to enjoy music making in the context of social support and nurturing.
Why not surprise your parents or grandparents with a gift certificate for keyboard lessons? Perhaps they'll begin each day with a sonata or the tune, "Happy Days are Here Again" instead of Prozac. Mind Over Matter!

 Barry Bittman, MD


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