Music has an almost magical way of stirring our emotions, creating images in our minds and coercing our bodies to move. It influences us in every way, cognitively, emotionally and socially. It is because it affects us so powerfully that music makes for a wonderful and meaningful intervention with the elderly population.
Alive Inside is a documentary that portrays and explains the power and impact that music has on us as humans, and how it can evoke emotional responses from even the most isolated person. But how is it that music is so powerful? People have been asking, investigating and pondering about this question for ages.
Music has been part of human life. For centuries, across all cultures and nations, people have danced, moved, created, sung, played, shared and told stories through, in, and around music. From our earliest experience, even within the womb and throughout our lives, we are surrounded by sounds, tones and rhythms. As humans we have many musical qualities: our hearts beat at various tempos; our voices have a pitch, a tone quality, a melodic contour; we walk with a certain pulse and rhythm; our brain waves have a regular and rhythmical oscillation. Even our waking and sleeping even have rhythms to them. In every sense of the word, we are musical beings.
Our experience of music is personal and unique, based on our characteristics, culture, how we were raised. However, there are some generalisations in how music impacts us physiologically. From our heart rates, blood pressure, our moods, and even our immune system, music can be energise, uplift and even communicate and express that which we cannot in words. Music brings people together. Music is one of the few activities that stimulate the entire brain from the frontal lobe, the motor and sensory cortex, right to the cerebellum. Music taps into the primitive brain structures involved with emotion, motivation, pleasure and memory. This is why songs can often stir up memories or images or feelings from the past.
What Alive Inside illustrates so beautifully is the power of music to awaken and create connection in even the most isolated person. Through the use of a simple iPod and the older person’s favourite songs, there is a stirring that brings about engagement and intimacy with others that no other activity or stimulus manages to elicit. The film portrays the therapeutic nature of music. I see it every day in my work as a music therapist.
The concept of there being a ‘core musicality’ in all humans has been recognised both in the fields of music therapy and anthropology for some time. One of the core concepts of music therapy practice is the notion of a ‘Music Child’: that there is a creative and healthy part inside each of us that remains intact even in the midst of disability, illness and trauma. In other words, no matter how deep the layers of confusion, memory loss or illness, there is still a health part of them that can be elicited through music.
Alive inside depicts the playing of prerecorded music via iPods and CDs yet I’d like to take it a step further and encourage carers and family of those with Dementia to try singing to their loved one. When we sing to another person, we can change our tone of voice, tempo and volume to suit the other person. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t a trained singer. The simple act of singing a favourite song brings a feeling, a notion, a memory and creates the space for intimate human contact.
Alive Inside is moving, emotional and inspiring. I would recommend any person working in Elder Care to watch it and be brave enough to sing.