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The Healing Effects of Music

Music can remind you of a specific person or time in your life. It can soothe you, energize you, and recent research shows that it has the power to heal you.

Music therapy—when a trained professional uses music interventions to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals—is a growing field in the U.S. (and around the world). Music therapy has been credited with everything from helping newborns gain weight to helping people recover their speech after a stroke.

It’s not a new field, either. Music therapy has been around since World War I, when community volunteers played music for the wounded. The patients and the nurses noticed a boost in spirits after music was played, an improved outlook, and even less pain. This led to a revelation: music can heal us. Soon after, hospitals were hiring musicians.

HOW IT WORKS; WHO IT HELPS

Music is meditative—the whole brain is stimulated and engaged when you’re listening. From emotion to motor function, creativity to memory, the brain processes music in complex ways. It has the power to shift your mood. It can bring on feelings of comfort and safety. You can forget about your present-day worries. According to Mindfulness Meditation Coach Louise Jensen,“When we listen to music, our brain releases dopamine—a feel-good chemical essential for the healthy functioning of the central nervous system; it has effects on emotion, perception, and movement.” So, music makes us happy. It can also lower blood pressure, reduce your heart rate, and relax your muscles, it’s no wonder that music therapists are in demand in a number of healing environments.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music therapists work in psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitative facilities, medical hospitals, outpatient clinics, day care treatment centers, agencies serving persons with developmental disabilities, community mental health centers, drug and alcohol programs, senior centers, nursing homes, hospice programs, correctional facilities, halfway houses, schools, and private practice.”

It doesn’t matter what style of music is used, either. There is no one-size-fits-all style that’s more therapeutic than others. It’s really a matter of preference, circumstance, and treatment needs (it also helps to have a positive, consistent relationship with the music therapist).

In short, music therapy can improve people’s quality of life.

MUSIC THERAPY HAS THE POWER TO:

• HELP RESTORE SPEECH

Imagine the frustration of not being able to find the words for everyday conversation. Imagine, too, the freedom of remembering words to familiar songs—and the euphoria of realizing the words and lyrics are still there. This isn’t uncommon for stroke survivors experiencing aphasia, a disorder that impairs the ability to process language. Listening to music can help boost stroke recovery by activating the part of the brain associated with memory, motor function, and emotional processing. Music therapy is being used to treat patients with neurological disorders of Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, as well as people living with brain injuries. After singing phrases often enough, some patients are able to find the words to speak again. Neurologists are excited about this: the research backs the idea that regardless of which part of the brain was damaged, music can help people learn again. Our brains can be rewired.

• AID IN PAIN RELIEF

Listening to music before surgery can take the focus away from fears. According to Joanne V. Loewy, PhD, director of the music therapy program at New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center in an article on WebMD, “There’s a belief that music and pain are processed along the same [nerve] pathways. So, if we have a patient playing or focusing on the music, they won’t feel the pain.” It might not be that people can’t feel the pain, but rather—that they’re distracted from it. For a brief time, the music can take them out of their situation so they can simply focus on the music.

• IMPROVE ASTHMA SYMPTOMS  

Music can help asthmatic patients relax so their lungs work more efficiently with medication. There’s evidence, too, that playing wind instruments can help asthmatics monitor their breathing strategies.

• HELP WITH DEMENTIA

Listening to and singing songs from the past can bring out memories associated with those songs; memories that were otherwise locked away. According to Alzheimers.net, “Music requires little to no mental processing, so singing music does not require the cognitive function [missing] in most dementia patients.”

• ASSIST THOSE IN ADDICTION TREATMENT

In the realm of addiction treatment, music therapy—when used in conjunction with talk therapy and medication—can be a highly effective tool. Those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol build up defense mechanisms (rationalizing, denying, lying) in order to hide their addiction and hide from their emotions. The creative nature of music therapy can help addicts alter their thought patterns. And listening to and talking about songs and lyrics can help people explore different emotions and feelings they might not feel comfortable discussing otherwise.

OTHER EXCITING STUDIES

Another exciting new study showed that music therapy reduced the rejection of heart transplants; another study showed that music can speed the rate of physical healing after surgery.

Music is universal—everyone can relate. And it’s doing so much more than entertaining us. It’s changing people, one beat, one rhythm, one song at a time.

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Health Benefits of Following a Mediterranean Diet

You’ve likely heard it before: it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.

When it’s the Mediterranean diet, it’s a lifestyle that can help improve your heart health, fight cancer, prevent diabetes, protect your cognitive health, boost your mood, and keep your weight under control.

The Mediterranean diet was introduced in the 1950s, following an extensive study of what people ate and how they lived in seven countries, Finland, Holland, Italy, the U.S., Greece, Japan, and Yugoslavia. In the countries that followed a Mediterranean diet, studies showed a very low rate of cholesterol. According to Harvard Medical School, “It showed that regions with a low consumption of saturated fat, such as the Mediterranean countries, had a much lower incidence of coronary artery disease than regions with a high consumption of saturated fat, such as the Scandinavian countries.”

What is the Mediterranean diet?     

There are no preservatives in a Mediterranean diet. It consists of fresh fruits and veggies, olive oil, nuts and seeds, legumes, whole grains, yogurt, cheese, the occasional glass of red wine, along with plenty of water. Fish and poultry is consumed “moderately.” There is low consumption of eggs and red meat. The focus is on foods and ingredients close to nature, rich in monounsaturated fats, high in fiber, and high in fresh plant foods. Unlike the average American diet, there’s very limited processed foods and sugar.

Can it save your life?

While the main long-term health benefit is protection against heart disease—the alpha-linolenic acid found in fresh olive oil can lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of a sudden cardiac arrest by a whopping 45 percent—studies have shown “eating Mediterranean” can be beneficial in many other ways.

According to the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, “The biological mechanisms for cancer prevention associated with the Mediterranean diet have been related to the favorable effect of a balanced ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids and high amounts of fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols found in fruit, vegetables, olive oil and wine.”

And there have been studies showing that following a Mediterranean diet might be a natural Parkinson’s disease treatment and a way to preserve your memory and protect cognitive impairment. In one four-year study, participants assigned to the Mediterranean diet maintained stable levels of cognition, whereas the ones advised to follow a low-fat diet experienced a small amount of decline. (Healthy fats like olive oil and nuts, plus plenty of anti-inflammatory veggies and fruits, are known to fight age-related cognitive decline.)

Mediterranean diet tips:

  • Eat fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, avocados, and whole grains
  • Eat at least a handful of nuts each day
  • Try to eat more beans, chickpeas, and peas (a source of protein and fiber)
  • Eat sweet potatoes
  • Drink smoothies instead of soda
  • Enjoy red wine in moderation
  • Eat a moderate amount of plain and Greek yogurt, organic milk, and natural cheese
  • Use olive oil abundantly for cooking and seasoning
  • Focus on high-quality ingredients and high-quality fat
  • Be mindful of portions
  • Dramatically limit or avoid pastries, potato chips, baked goods, processed meats, processed foods, and refined carbohydrates
  • Aim for one serving or less of cured ham, red meat, and fatty cheeses per week
  • Sit down and enjoy your meal! (Even better when enjoyed with friends and family.)

Experiment eating the Mediterranean way with the following Mayo Clinic recipes. 

 

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The Latest in Hearing Technology and Innovations for 2018

Once upon a time, analog hearing aids were the only hearing aids available on the market. They ran on batteries, used a standard microphone/amplifier/receiver to deliver sound into the ear, didn’t do a great job of getting rid of background noise (trying to have a conversation at restaurants was especially challenging), and sometimes detected feedback, delivering an irritating buzz or whistling sound directly into your ears.

And then along came wireless wearable technology and the introduction of digital hearing aids, making it easier than ever to hear. Once the benefits became widely known, more and more audiologists started saying goodbye to the days of analog. According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), today there are more than 20 different digital hearing aid manufacturers in the U.S.

Digital hearing aids work in that sound waves are picked up by the microphone and processed by a computer code for clarity and balance before delivering a true-to-life sound quality back to the wearer. Distracting background noise is dramatically reduced, there’s no annoying feedback, and the hearing aids automatically adapt to your environment and recognize, distinguish, and store specific frequencies (you don’t have to adjust the volume). They’re also smaller and more discrete, and can be customized to each person’s distinctive hearing loss.

And that’s not the only exciting news in the world of hearing. In honor of May being “Better Hearing Month,” here’s a few ways companies are changing the landscape of audiology:

• Own Voice Processing technology: Signia Nx hearing aids have developed Own Voice Processing technology to identify when the person wearing the hearing aids is speaking. A common complaint amongst those trying hearing aids for the first time is that their voice sounds artificial, with an unsettling booming quality or tinny/hollow sound. Understandably, this can be a huge adjustment to get used to. This new technology eliminates that off-putting auditory occlusion.

• Rechargeable hearing aids: Disposable batteries can be a hassle, especially when they need to be replaced frequently—and they can be expensive. With rechargeable technology, it’s as easy to charge your hearing aids as it is to charge your cell phone. The charge lasts 24 hours and the batteries never need to be replaced.

• Invisible hearing aids: Invisible hearing aids are the smallest of hearing aids, fitting down within the ear canal. They are virtually undetectable by others, sound natural, and feel comfortable. They’re not perfect, though. There’s a short battery life, they don’t fit in everyone’s ears, and they aren’t strong enough for severe hearing loss (they’re recommended for those with mild or moderate hearing loss).

• Wireless microphone: The cutting-edge wireless microphone—shaped like a pen—is used in conjunction with hearing aids. It reduces background noise and the perception of high-frequency sounds, helping people hear clearly—no matter how noisy the setting.

• Made for iPhone® hearing aids: Engineered to work with iPhones, iPads, iPods, and the Apple Watch® — this easy-to-use hearing control app enhances the listening experience. Not only can it stream audio straight into your ears, it can use information from inertial sensors within the phone to change how sound is processed.

• Hearing aids with sensors by Starkey: First there was Siri, then Alexa, now Starkey Hearing Technologies is working on technology that will allow users to tap their hearing aid to “awaken” a smart assistant and nod or shake their head to respond to inquiries. Onboard inertial sensors will also track physical activity and detect falls—then send an alert to a loved one if something seems amiss. (In your phone, inertial sensors allow you to know which way you’re holding your phone.) Starkey is also looking at ways to monitor blood sugar levels and body temperature.

In the future, hearing aids won’t only help you hear better, they’ll help you live better, too.

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The Dirt on Gardening: Benefits to Your Mind, Body, and Soul

Gardening is more than just pretty flowers and plants. In honor of Earth Day on April 22, here’s the dirt on gardening and the benefits it can bring to your mind, body, and soul:

Gardening is physically good for you. According to the Centers for Disease Control, when activity is done at a moderate-intensity activity level 2.5 hours per week, health risks are reduced for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and osteoporosis. Gardening, a low-impact exercise, falls into this category.

It’s a scientifically-proven stress reliever. People find tranquility, healing, and mental clarity when gardening.

It optimizes vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin.” When your bare arms and legs are exposed to sunlight in safe amounts while gardening, skin cells manufacture vitamin D. This vitamin is essential for the absorption of calcium, needed for bone growth and bone health. (Unsafe, long-term sun exposure can contribute to skin cancer. To reap the benefits of optimizing vitamin D from sun exposure, aim for half the time it would take your skin to turn pink in the sun, then put on sunblock.)

It might decrease dementia risk by keeping your mind sharp. According to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, gardening may cut your risk of Alzheimer’s nearly in half. Physical and mental activity, when combined, can have a positive influence on the mind.

It can help you sleep better. Fresh air, physical activity, and safe sunlight exposure can all contribute to a better night’s sleep. Take it one step further and put Aloe Vera, English Ivy, Jasmine, or Lavender indoor plants in your room to purify the air and help you catch more zzzz’s.

It reinforces the use of your hands. When you want to pull a weed, you’re thinking about pulling that weed, not the physical act of gripping something.

It can boost your mood. Just being outside can lift spirits. There’s also a natural optimism that comes with the mentality that, even if there’s bad weather, you can always try again next year.

It can improve your balance. Gardening can build your strength and improve your balance and coordination. Studies show that just 30 minutes of gardening a day can help support rehabilitation and recovery for people affected by heart disease and stroke.

It provides a sense of accomplishment. It’s therapeutic to nurture a seed into a full-grown plant.

It’s an excellent source of fresh produce. Some of the healthiest foods you can eat are grown in the ground. Bonus, you save money on your grocery bill.

American Baptist Homes of the Midwest has senior living communities in Harlan, Iowa; Denver, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; Albert Lea, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Milwaukee; Wisconsin. Our mission is to create healthy Christian communities that empower older adults, families, and people with disabilities through providing choices for housing, services, and technology that enrich body, mind, and spirit.

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5 Ways to Preserve Your Family Legacy

We build a legacy every day we’re alive. It’s evident in our beliefs, values, experiences, and how we choose to give back. It’s evident in how we respond to life’s challenges. A legacy isn’t just what we’ve earned, but what we’ve learned. Don’t let untold stories from your past become lost. Here are five ways to record, celebrate, and connect with family while creating a legacy keepsake:

Create a family tree scrapbook. Start with the most recent family members and move outwards, rather than the other way around. Include important dates, migration from one country to another, family traditions, hereditary information, interesting keepsakes (receipts, concert tickets, etc.), and photos from all stages of life—not just the younger years. Ask family members to create their own pages so they can control their messages and how they most want to be remembered. *Tip: Be careful when handling old photos. Touch only the corners. Make sure all photos have captions. Journaling is a key part of scrapbooking. You want to know who you’re looking at and why those photos have significance.

Gather essays and compile them into a collection. Ask family members to fill out questionnaires (city and hospital where they were born, first/memorable/current jobs, schools, where they’ve lived, children, travels, favorite foods, sports, experiences) and create a book.  Another idea? Ask the family to answer a series of questions every year on the same holiday: what’s one lesson you learned this year, favorite TV show/book/movie, how you spent your last birthday, life lessons, advice, memorable moments, etc.

Interview family members on video and create a documentary. Don’t know what equipment to use or how to make a documentary? This website provides a helpful step-by-step “how-to” guide: www.desktop-documentaries.com.

Create an inventory of family artifacts/heirlooms. Ever wondered about the story behind that family heirloom? Create a place to store that information. What is the item? What are the family stories/memories associated with it? When was it made or acquired? Who owned it first? Who owns it now?

Put together a heritage recipe cookbook. For some families, their best memories are wrapped in memorable meals. If recipes have been handed down through the generations, compile those in a cookbook. In addition to the recipe, you can include photos of the meal and the person or family who first made it, the person or family who submitted it for the cookbook, and any special memories associated with it.

In the wise words of actor Michael J. Fox, “Family isn’t just an important thing, it’s everything.” Take steps now to record your memories of the past—and help preserve those moments long into the future.

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Mindfulness Meditation: A Beginner's Guide

“It’s also helpful to realize that this very body that we have, that’s sitting right here right now… with its aches and it pleasures… is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.” ~ Pema Chodron

Pause for a moment and breathe. Be present. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, relax your body. It might seem easy enough, but meditation—based on traditional Buddhist practices—requires you to be completely alone with your thoughts, and can actually take some time to “train your brain” to stop wandering. Once you’re able to focus on being present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, there’s no denying the positive benefits. Mindful meditation can improve our:

  • Sleep
  • Memory
  • Mood
  • Stress levels
  • Health

People who regularly practice mindfulness say they’re more happy, less anxious, and more spontaneous. Mindful meditation can also encourage connectedness, which can alleviate loneliness.

How does a person start meditating? Actually, you may have meditated without realizing it. Remember the last time you stared at a flame in a burning fire? Or even did a jigsaw puzzle? Your brain was likely focusing and relaxing. It’s different, though, when it’s an intentional daily act. Here’s how to get started:

• Find a quiet, peaceful room in your home, a space without clutter or distractions. Some people prefer to meditate in the morning; others before bed.

• Clear your mind, but acknowledge that thoughts will pop into your head. Let those thoughts float away.

• When you first start meditating, it might be helpful to listen to the Calm app, white noise, or lulling music.

• Make sure your shoulders and neck are relaxed. Breathe deeply in and out.

• Count the inhalations and exhalations. Or breathe in positive energies and let go of the negative. If thoughts creep in, keep focusing on your breathing. Start with just 2 minutes, then work your way up to 10-15.

Being mindful doesn’t mean you’re thinking about nothing. It means waking up out of autopilot and really paying attention to our thoughts and feelings, and allowing those feelings to happen. It means accepting that some negative emotions are part of life, and learning to balance negative feelings with positive ones (once we deal honestly with emotions, we can learn and grow—and experience life in a more productive way). It means fully deeply present in the moment, with the past and the future having no power. As Mother Teresa said, “Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.”

American Baptist Homes of the Midwest has senior living communities in Harlan, Iowa; Denver, Colorado; Omaha, Nebraska; Albert Lea, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and Milwaukee; Wisconsin. Our mission is to create healthy Christian communities that empower older adults, families, and people with disabilities through providing choices for housing, services, and technology that enrich body, mind, and spirit.

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