Music, Memories, and Wisdom: A Cognitive Intervention Program
- memory and senior-friendly physical exercises
- guided imagery & sound healing
- community building, humor, music
- performances from the teacher
Neuroplasticity and Aging Redefined
Not long ago, growing old was viewed strictly in terms of decline. The loss of oneʼs physical and mental capabilities with age was thought of as a natural and inevitable process. Learning was thought of as something for the young – something we did in school, but left behind with career and family responsibilities. Certainly, retirees and senior citizens were not often encouraged to learn complex new skills. The Chinese even have a saying that one shouldnʼt attempt to learn anything new after the age of thirty.
However, recent findings in neuroscience have changed all of this. The brain retains its capacity for development (ʻplasticityʼ) to a much more advanced age than was previously suspected. This fact has opened up new horizons in the field of adult education. At the same time, research into senility and dementia indicates that the best way to stave off the effects of aging is to continue learning new things throughout oneʼs life. Activities such as speaking a foreign language, playing board games and dancing help to establish new neural pathways and reinforce old ones.
In many respects, music is an ideal activity for seniors concerned with maintaining their faculties into their autumn years. Not only does music give the brain a complex and stimulating workout; music also enriches peopleʼs lives in ways that few other endeavors can. Music is a universal language, and it is never to late to begin learning.
Students enliven their minds and bodies in a variety of musical scenarios: singing and listening to Solfege, playing musical sensory games and exploring rhythm as a group are the main musical components of the class. The students experience personal growth and group bonding as they learn new skills and share those skills with their class and the community at large.
MMW strives to help each student prevent further memory loss and instead make gains through itʼs progressive Ear Memory Training component: each class centers around the memorization of pitches of the C major scale on Solfege (Do re mi). Students may not realize they are undergoing such rigorous training since this it is a fun and lighthearted activity, reminiscent of scenes from ʻThe Sound of Music.”
MMW recognizes and respects that itʼs students are in their wisdom years. With that in mind, MMW seeks to elicit that wisdom by offering students a variety of opportunities to share their memories and have discussions. The residents shape their classroom experience and choose what repertoire they perform. This aspect of the program gives them a greater sense of autonomy, builds their self-esteem, and deepens their investment in their music education.
A Typical Session
*Each session is sixty minutes long and meant for all levels of experience*
Wellness: Each class begins with breathing, stretching, and guided imagery. This aides the learning process and sets the stage for a focused, happy class.
Rhythms and Instrument Exploration: The class then moves into a supported rhythm circle with shakers. Simple polyrhythms keep this aspect stimulating but not overly challenging. We sometimes explore new instruments in lieu of playing with rhythms: everyone gets a hands-on experience of the instrument and learns more about it.
Ear and Memory Training: This is the centerpiece of the MMW program and is comprised of singing Solfege, guided, focused listening, and visualizing. There’s often an accompanying performance of a piece of repertoire or an improvisation based in the key that’s being studied. Participants are asked to notice what the music brings to their minds.
Repertoire: Each week the class peaks with a song that has the lyrics as well as the Solfege. The songs are usually requested by the class participants. First the class speak-sings the Solfege to get used to the syllables. Then the class sings the Solfege and finally the lyrics. The teacher accompanies on the piano.
Closing: The Teacher reviews the events of the day and what was learned. Students share their observations and give feedback. A final stretch and song close the class. The final song is always the same for continuity; it’s sung in Solfege and in English and is one of the best memory aides of the class.
“MMW has served our residents well! It brings them an exciting challenge for their minds, allows them to share their memories and bond as a group, and itʼs a fun and exciting way to experience music”
-Patty Bennett, program director at Laurel Parc at Bethany Village