Aging Well: Music to the ears

Upcoming concert an opportunity for seniors to reap auditory pleasures

If you go

The Steamboat Springs Orchestra will perform its fall concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Steamboat Springs Christian Center. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students and may be purchased at All That Jazz, the Steamboat Springs Arts Council or at www.steamboatorch...>

Low-income seniors who are interested in receiving complimentary tickets or need transportation to the Sunday show should call Shelley Orrell at 879-0633.

Exaltation, triumph, grandeur. Most of us experience little of this in our everyday lives. Yet, Ira Dubinsky feels these and many other powerful emotions while listening to classical music.

"It affects me emotionally," said Dubinsky, who is president of the board of directors for the Steamboat Springs Orchestra. "It causes me to have many good feelings."

Musicians and music lovers will attest to how music lifts moods, eases stress and stirs memories. These qualities also make music an effective form of therapy for people of varying conditions, including older adults struggling with depression, loneliness, dementia and other aspects of aging.

With that in mind, the Steamboat Springs Orchestra has partnered with local organizations and facilities to offer low-income seniors and hospice patients a chance to experience the joy of attending a live classical concert.

The orchestra has provided about 100 complimentary tickets to its fall concert this Sunday to residents at The Haven Assisted Living Center, The Doak Walker Care Center and to patients and their families in the Visiting Nurse Association's Hospice program.

The Routt County Council on Aging also has free tickets and transportation available for low-income seniors who would like to attend. Each may bring a guest.

This is the second year Janice Poirot, a public health nurse at the VNA, has facilitated the effort. Poirot, who conducts health screenings for seniors at congregate meal sites, saw the concerts as a fun way to engage seniors in the community and prevent them from becoming socially isolated.

"Part of wellness is not just the absence of being sick," she said. "It's about being healthy on other levels."

The Steamboat Springs Orchestra is a nonprofit organization made up mostly of local professional musicians. The orchestra performs four main programs during the year, including holiday and spring concerts also performed in Craig.

The orchestra plans to provide complimentary tickets to Moffat County senior groups for its holiday concert Nov. 30 in Craig, executive director John Fairlie said.

"I think music is such an important part of what makes us human," he said. "It touches us in such a deep way and keeps us connected to our souls and to others.

"It's part of our responsibility to give to the community especially those in need."

Valuable part of daily life

Most senior groups, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities in the area rely on volunteer musicians and music groups to perform for residents.

Whether residents are listening to a live performance from a high school choir, dancing or exercising to music or playing instruments themselves, music is a valuable part of daily life at places such as The Haven in Hayden.

"Music is very important to them," said Kathy Lozinsky, activities director at The Haven. "It can change a bad mood into a good mood."

As if on cue, a Haven resident started singing "Amazing Grace" in the background.

"We get them breaking out into spontaneous songs sometimes too," Lozinsky said.

Music also plays a big role at the Sandrock Ridge Care and Rehab Center in Craig, where staff has found music activities are a good way to ease reluctant new residents into a more social atmosphere.

"That is usually the first ice breaker, where all they have to do is sit and enjoy themselves : It's a nonthreatening activity, and they really respond to it," said Mary Gillingham, Sandrock's recreation and leisure director.

At Colorado State University's department of music therapy, students have found music helps youths, elderly and other patients talk about their issues and problems more easily.

"We actually use music as a platform for emotional expression," said Bill Davis, professor of music therapy at CSU.

Keeping the brain healthy

Carolyn Kuban specializes in music therapy for older adults in the Boulder area. She explained how music activities, particularly those in which seniors take an active role, such as keeping a beat with simple instruments, singing or dancing, can help them maintain a healthy brain.

This has been confirmed by brain mapping studies that show more parts of the brain are fired during music activity than almost any other human activity, Kuban said.

"In different parts of the brain affected by music, neurons are healthier from being used," she said.

Kuban uses music activities to help seniors work on their alertness, concentration, problem solving, coordination, speech and other skills.

The rhythmic component of music also has been found to help with retraining movements in Parkinson's patients and people who have had strokes. It also has been found effective in reaching some Alzheimer's patients by accessing memories stored in the brain.

"It brings them into contact even for a brief period of time," Davis said. "That's a special thing about music that other techniques aren't able to do."

The Haven, Sandrock Ridge Care and Rehab Center and Doak Walker Care Center welcome musicians and musical groups interested in performing or rehearsing for senior groups on a volunteer basis.

The VNA's Aging Well program also would like to hear from artists interested in performing for seniors at the temporary or future Steamboat Springs Community Center sites and other locations. For more information, call 871-7676.

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