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I have a favorite local watering hole with a variety of people who frequently play the jukebox. I’m a member of this group. This particular jukebox operates through an app, which means you don’t have to get up to pick your song, but it’s always a guess as to who played which song.
On a recent Saturday night, somebody played Taylor Swift’s “Love Story.” What happened next was simply amazing. I watched as people lit up and started singing along. Loudly. They knew all the words, and their exuberance was contagious, as others who maybe only knew the refrain chimed in. I did a quick survey afterwards (data geek that I am) and discovered that no less than four generations were singing the same song at the same time. Gen Zs, Millennials, Gen X-ers and Boomers were all represented in this little “choir.”
This multigenerational connection to music is certainly not a new phenomenon; parents have been passing music down to their children and children have been introducing their parents to new music for decades, but it was really fun to watch that night.
Music has a mesmerizing hold on us. It transcends time and can evoke powerful memories of joy, sadness, pain, or grief to name just a few. Countless studies have been done about the effects music has on our brains. Since 2006, two University of Central Florida professors, a neuroscientist and his wife, a world-class violinist, have been teaching a course called “Music and the Brain.” They explore the impact of music on brain function. Here’s dynamic overview of their course: UCF: Your Brain on Music.
The effects of music on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients are particularly striking. I remember watching a human-interest story many years ago about a man caring for his wife with Alzheimer’s disease. As her disease progressed, she lost more and more of her memories to the point where she barely knew her husband of 60 years. What she could remember, however, was the music from their lives together. When her husband played records, her eyes lit up and she started moving, even occasionally singing.
Elton John once said, “Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” Everyone is aging, even Elton John. But music creates connections to our past and enriches our lives as we age. A song that I heard as a teenager is a new and exciting song to teenagers of today, and we are all connected to the healing power of music throughout our aging experience.
Sometimes I think about my future and wonder “what if?” Perish the thought that I might suffer a brain injury or disease and couldn’t communicate the way I would like. I suspect I would get rather agitated at times. So, I created a Spotify playlist called “Jannie’s Calming Music.” If I seemed upset, somebody could put some headphones on me and run the playlist. I bet it would help. You might not think David Bowie’s “Always Crashing in the Same Car” sounds very calming, but it’s a different story for me. My wife loved the idea and started her own playlist.
Even though neither of us is currently a caregiver for the other, we have prepared for the in-case moment through music. My time at DARTS has taught me that you never know when those moments can happen, and I want to be as ready as I can be. Having the support of the caregiver team is a luxury I have that others don’t always know much about. Don’t forget – if you are a caregiver in need of support, DARTS can help.
We live in an amazing time where our favorite songs are just a click away. I encourage you to start your own playlist. If you have a less tech-savvy older adult in your life, maybe build a playlist for them, too. You might just find yourselves singing along to the same tune at the same time. Loudly.
Jan Hix is the Director of Programs at DARTS. Her main focus areas are Home Services and Transportation. Jan came to the non-profit sector in 2016 after a career at FedEx, which gives her a unique perspective on the challenges of transportation. At DARTS, she is also a database administrator and the self-proclaimed “Chief Statistician”. She can often be found curling up with a good spreadsheet and pivot table. Originally from Illinois, Jan moved to Minnesota in 1998. She and her wife, Jacquie, have been together since 1999 and were married in 2015. Together, they enjoy working on projects around the house, traveling, or just hanging out by the lake in summer. Music is a through-stream in Jan’s life. While she enjoys many genres, she really leans into British rock ‘n’ roll artists, most notably David Bowie. She is also interested in art & photography, the latest tech gadget, and telling a good story. One of her favorite quotes comes from the Satellite Sisters who say, “Not every conversation will change your life, but any conversation can”. May the Force be with You.