The Power of Music

Every morning I wake up to a tune in my head. This morning it was Foo Fighters, "Learn to Fly". If it’s an upbeat song, I’ll let it linger. It sets the mood for the rest of my day. If it’s a sad song, I’ll reach for my iPhone and set up my, “Let’s get amped” playlist. I want to start my day off right so I turn to music. I’ve found it has the power to change, enhance or express not just my mood, but nearly anyone's listening.

Therein lies its beauty. Music is a universal form of expression -- an international language used around the world, by all age groups, giving the 7.3 billion of us a common platform by which to express ourselves. Even newborns can process music. While still in the womb, a fetus’s brain exposed to a melody can form a memory trace of it. Thereafter, as an infant, its brain will react more strongly to that melody, as compared to an infant that was never exposed to the melody [1]. Music is captivating. It has the power to entrance us in the present or instantly take us back years or decades to a particular experience; it encapsulates a moment in a song and all we have to do is listen to remember. Music is transformative. Have you ever felt emotionally overwhelmed and, turning to a peaceful tune, found your nerves soothed to a state of calm? Music is truly magical. Would you believe it if I told you that the minds of those with even the deepest forms of dementia have been reawakened with a memorable beat?

The Alive Inside Foundation, a not-for-profit organization and GrandPad partner, has dedicated themselves to expanding human connection and cultivating empathy through the power of music. The following clip from the foundation’s 2014 award winning Sundance film, Alive Inside (click here), depicts Henry, a patient who has suffered multiple seizures. Residing in a Brooklyn nursing home for close to 10 years he was inert, unresponsive and likely depressed. Almost instantly, upon listening to his favorite singer he emerges from, “the cocoon he had been inside of for ten years.” The video goes on to show how he reacquires his identity through the power of music: click here and watch video #2.

Music is widely known to have a healing effect, to repair not only everyday emotional wounds, but also to supplement traditional treatments of severe developmental, neurologic and psychiatric conditions. Music Therapy, the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to improve physical and mental health states, is conducted by established health professionals in clinical, correctional, educational and residential settings. It has been prescribed for those with developmental disorders such as autism, neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease and psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia [2]. Music Therapy interventions are diverse, as they use music in a multitude of ways to promote well-being. For instance, Alzheimer’s patients have benefited cognitively, through the use of sung lyrics, enhancing their ability to recall to-be-remembered words [3]. Stroke patients, who sang along to songs and played a range of percussion instruments to incorporate vocal exercises, improved their ability to communicate [4]. Patients with mood disorders who actively participated in a music making experience, by singing or playing an instrument, experienced reductions in anxiety, depression and agitation [4][5]. There is a multitude of research on the effects of Music Therapy on health; overall, research studies conducted at nursing facilities and nursing homes have shown that singing and listening to music, in conjunction with usual care, can improve mood, sleep, memory, general cognition and overall quality of life as compared to usual care alone [5][6][7].

At GrandPad we believe in music’s ability to emotionally and physically move and heal our elders. This is why we meticulously curate music to each person’s preference. A “GrandPad grandma”, Rose, upon listening to her playlist shared, “I reverted back to when I was eighteen. I was dancing in my mind with wonderful memories!” Scientific research backs our intention: Music individualized to the listener's preference can be beneficial to one’s health, by eliciting positive memories, enhancing mood, reducing anxiety and agitation and promoting communication, beyond even classical “relaxation” music [7][8].

I encourage you to find new ways to engage in music: create a new playlist, go to karaoke with friends, pick up an old instrument or learn a new one. A little bit of music everyday can go a long way, even if it is just to kickstart your morning.


1. Partanen, E., Kujala, T., Tervaniemi, M., & Huotilainen, M. (2013). Prenatal music exposure induces long-term neural effects.
2. Bruscia, K. E. (1998). Defining music therapy. Barcelona Publishers, 1998.
3. Simmons-Stern, N. R., Budson, A. E., & Ally, B. A. (2010). Music as a memory enhancer in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychologia, 48, 3164–3167.
4. Purdie, H., Hamilton S., Baldwin S. (1997). Music therapy: facilitating behavioural and psychological change in people with stroke - a pilot study. International Journal of Rehabilitation Research, 20, 325-237.
5. Särkämö, T., Tervaniemi, M., Laitinen, S., Numminen, A., Kurki, M., Johnson, J. K., & Rantanen, P. (2014). Cognitive, emotional, and social benefits of regular musical activities in early dementia: Randomized controlled study. The Gerontologist, 54(4), 634-650.
6. Johnson J. E. (2010). The use of music to promote sleep in older women. Journal of Community Health Nursing, 20(1), 27-35.
7. Gerdner, A. L. (2000). Effects of individualized versus classical “relaxation” music on frequency of agitation in elderly persons with alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. International psychogeriatrics, 12(1), 49-65.
8. Gerdner, A. L. (2012). Individualized music for dementia: evolution and application of evidence-based protocol. World J Psychiatry, 2(2), 26-32.