Recently I was reminded about how powerful music can be on the human spirit. In a room of people who have dementia, the song “Sweet Caroline” was played. Suddenly everyone was singing along and waving their hands to the music. It did not matter if they had been anxious, tired, or unsure of themselves, all that mattered was that the song made them feel happy and engaged.

Lately, I have been making an effort to be thoughtful about what music I play in the car on my commute to work. Rather than just listening to whatever is on the radio, I have been digging into my old collection of CDs and finding music that brings back happy memories.

In a time when things feel stressful for me, being able to hear songs that bring me joy completely changes my mood for the day. I sing along in the car and never worry that I may look silly to someone in a neighboring car. Sometimes when I reach my destination, I have to sit in the car a little longer until the song finishes before I can turn off the car and get out.

The power of music on our mood is very strong. Humming a tune in your head can create a soundtrack to your day. That soundtrack can make it feel upbeat, calming, or melancholy, based on which song is in your head.

It is not surprising to learn that there are scientific studies to back up the concept that music improves your mood. One study found that listening to music increases the level of dopamine produced in the brain. Dopamine is a mood enhancing chemical.

Some studies even show that music can ease physical pain. Researchers in Denmark studied how music can benefit people with fibromyalgia. When patients listened to calm and relaxing music, it reduced their pain and improved their functional mobility.

Music can even help with sleep. Play something relaxing like classical music for 30 minutes before bed. It will relax your mind and help distract you from intruding thoughts.

Music can open doors to memories stored away. This is very true for people with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. There is a 2014 documentary called Alive Inside that follows a social worker, Dan Cohen, who brings music to people with dementia living in care facilities.

Cohen asked the family members for input on songs that their loved ones enjoyed in their lives. He then created individual playlists for each resident to tap into their happy memories. The effect of the music was astounding. Very quickly you could see people’s mood and quality of life improve.

Often, we do not take the time to value how much music can benefit our day to day lives. The next time you are doing a boring task like washing the dishes, cleaning, or sorting paperwork, try playing an upbeat song to make the time go faster. If you have a loved one you want to connect with, play a song from your shared past and see how it brings up memories.

The English novelist George Eliot wrote: “Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.” Allow music to ease your effort. Pick a song to start your day with that will lift your spirits and be intentional on using music as a soundtrack to your day.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at

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