Music: The Secret to Mental Health and Balance While Aging

No matter where you travel, you’ll notice one universal truth — music has a very particular and powerful hold on us all. Cultures everywhere make and love music. This has been the case throughout history. We have used music to relax, communicate and celebrate — the human brain is hard-wired to react to music. According to Kimberly Sena Moore, a neurologic music therapist, “Your brain lights up like a Christmas tree when you listen to music.”

The magic of music goes much further than entertainment — there a surprising number of health benefits for the elderly, and there is a lot of evidence to support the fact that music is a secret weapon when it comes to maintaining optimal mental health and balance in our old age.

Boost Memory by Learning to Play an Instrument

If you want to ensure your memory is strong well into your winter years, consider picking up an instrument. Regardless of what you prefer to play, the act of learning how to play will sharpen your memory recall. This is because the process of learning and playing an instrument requires a great number of complex tasks, such as reading musical notes and knowing where to place your fingers. In time, this expands your working memory capacity and your ability to multiprocess without feeling overloaded. You will also be able to remember information for longer periods.

Music Can Act as a Stress Reliever

Coping with stress can become more difficult as we get older. We have less resilience to it, and it can affect us differently, which is stressful in and of itself. On top of changes in response to stress, we can experience changes in triggers as the years go by, so it is important we all find a way to cope.

There have been many studies to show music has a notable (and positive) effect on our stress and blood pressure levels. In fact, this is the case even if we’re not conscious. One study involving surgery patients found the use of music before an operation reduced stress levels to an even greater degree than anti-anxiety medication. The act of singing sends small vibrations throughout the body, which lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and releases endorphins, thereby helping to keep you calm and collected in trying times.

Music Can Reduce Falls in the Elderly

Remarkably, studies show when the elderly exercise while listening to music, it helps them maintain balance and reduce the risk of falling. Falling is a huge concern for those over the age of 65, and music might well be the answer. According to a 2011 Swiss study, where participants were trained to walk and perform certain movements in time to music, they experienced 54% fewer falls when compared to the control group. The study also found that walking speed and stride length increased as a result.

A Good Drum Beat Can Kickstart Brain Function

The brain instinctively syncs to a rhythm. Because of this, therapists use drumming to get through to patients with severe dementia who don’t normally respond to external stimulus. When dementia patients hear music, you can detect a noticeable shift. They show more of an interest in their surroundings, they clap to the beat or even sing. This is because music can stimulate many parts of the brain simultaneously. Music which was popular when the patient was between the ages of 18 and 25 generally gets the most positive response.

Music Can Soothe Physical and Emotional Pain

Swedish researchers have found your favourite music can be a great pain reliever, as it can distract us and boost positive emotions. Interestingly, by evoking nostalgia, music can help us get through the pain, both physical and emotional.

Music Can Combat Depression and Boost Happiness

A serotonin imbalance in the brain causes depression. When you listen to music, you experience a boost in serotonin, so music can be used as a tool to combat depression in the elderly. Doctors claim the simple act of singing can release oxytocin, providing a significant mood booster. So while music alone may never entirely relieve the symptoms brought about by depression, it can certainly do its bit to enhance wellbeing.

Music Provides Opportunities for Social Interaction

Music can provide an essential source for social contact, which promotes interaction and a sense of belonging. This is increasingly important as we age. By incorporating music therapy and joining a choir, the opportunities to socialise and collaborate let us make new friendships and create new bonds.

Music Can Improve Quality and Quantity of Sleep

Many seniors don’t get as much sleep as they need, which can cause serious medical issues in time. Lack of sleep has been shown to have a profound and negative impact on mental health and wellbeing. A 2009 meta-analysis found music can improve the quality and quantity of sleep. Of course, the benefits may not happen overnight. But if you persist, in as little as three weeks, you should notice a pay off from this relaxation technique. Some of these include falling asleep faster and remaining asleep for longer.

4 Things to Consider Before Taking the Job

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When we first apply for a job, most of us only think about being hired so we can begin making a living for ourselves. However, as a job-seeker, there is more to take into consideration presides a salary. Often, we think that we are the only one who benefits from being hired, when in fact, the organization benefits as well.

You have been offered a position because they see value in you. Therefore, it is important that the organization show how much they value you as an employee. There are four things that I look for when contemplating whether to take a position or not.

Diverse workforce.

Understanding cultural competency is a major aspect that many organizations and non-profits promotes to its employees so they can effectively serve clients from all walks of life. However, many organization’s employees are not as diverse as it could be. Ask yourself if your potential employer is diverse. Some ways of evaluating its diversity includes race, gender, sexual orientation, body-size diversity, diversity of able-bodyism, etc. A major aspect for me would be cultural expression through hair. For instance, if men of color are expected to only have low-top fades and women of color can only wear their hair straight, then you may want to reevaluate the position.

Daily Tasks. 

Many of us have advanced degrees that has given us specific training to do particular skill sets and work with various populations. Some of which requires us to be licensed to practice. When deciding whether or not to take the job ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is this what I have been trained to do?
  2. Does it require an advanced degree?
  3. Does it require a professional license?
  4. Do I like this daily tasks?
  5. Am I good at the daily tasks?

Work Culture. 

According to Forbes, culture is the set of behaviors, values, artifacts, reward systems, and rituals that make up your organization. Think back to your interview and ask yourself whether it was a warm or cold feeling. When you asked about their work culture, what did they say? What is valued: results or relationships. This is also where self expression comes into play. If you are prohibited from having office decor that expresses your culture, nationality, race, etc., then you may want to reevaluate accepting the position.

If you did not feel comfortable, chances are you won’t like or fit in well with the work culture. If the employer is not understanding about you missing days because you are sick or because of a family crisis, then you may want to reevaluate the position. Do you identify with the mission, vision, and goals of the organization? If they do not match with your mission, vision, and goals then you may want to reconsider. One last thing, if the work place values competition and not collaboration and helping one another, or if on the job training is minimal and not ongoing, then you may want to reevaluate the position.

Benefits and Opportunities. 

Employers want employees who are invested in the company, but employees should want employers who are invested in them. Before you say yes to the job evaluate what’s in it for you. Are there opportunities for you to attend conferences and training events to better hone your skills and increase your credibility? Will your employer give you paid time off to attend such events?

Will they support you financially to attend these events? If you need supervision for your advanced license, ask if they have an advanced licensed supervisor so you don’t have to outsource it out of pocket. Also, evaluate the position. Are there any opportunities for promotions and growth or is it a terminal position? If there is no opportunity for growth, you may want to reevaluate saying yes.

There many more things that should come to mind when deciding whether or not to accept a position. The biggest thing is what is your initial feeling when you go to the interview and once you leave. Go with your gut feeling. Your gut instinct is never wrong so trust it. If you felt on edge before and after the interview or you felt uncertain about the fit, then you may want to ask some followup questions addressing your concerns before committing to that position.

Do not settle for anything less but the best. There are many great opportunities waiting for you so hang in there. Accept a position that is going to help you grow as a professional and help you achieve your goals. It’s one thing to get a career and another to get a career that you love.

The Importance Of Breastfeeding: Physical, Mental and Financial Benefits

The arguments for and against breastfeeding have been raging for years, with compelling arguments being made for both sides. However, recent research has begun to show just how important breastfeeding is in a child’s development. Additionally, there are added benefits for the mother. Breastfeeding encourages a strong bond between a mother and child, and has been shown to have extended benefits even into a child’s later life, such as higher IQ scores, as well as a lower rate of childhood obesity and allergies. Essentially, the natural milk that you produce is a key element to your child’s well being.

Breast Is Best: The Benefits of Breastfeeding

babyAccording to, many medical bodies such as The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists strongly recommend breastfeeding for your child’s first six months. Given these weighty supporters, it may be hard to understand why a mother would not breastfeed. Every baby and mother is unique, and there may be circumstances that do not allow the mother to breastfeed her baby.

Getting your baby to start breastfeeding may also not be as easy as it looks. However, by using nursing pillows, a rocker and engaging in relaxing tactics for you and your child, breastfeeding can become a wonderful way to strengthen your bond as well as provide your baby the best nutrition possible.

1) Breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for your baby.

Even though formula has come a long way in recent years, breastfeeding provides your child with the essential balance of vitamins, protein, and fat. When you first start breastfeeding your child, the thick liquid that starts is called “first milk.” This helps your baby’s digestive tract get prepared to more easily digest milk — something that can’t be replicated with formula. Additionally, formula is often thought to be more difficult for your baby to digest.

2) Breastfeeding can help you to shed baby weight quicker.

In addition to your concerns about your child, chances are you’re probably also wondering how you’re going to shift that baby weight you’ve put on. Breastfeeding actually burns additional calories, making it a great way to get back into shape after your pregnancy. An added bonus is that breastfeeding can actually lower your risk of breast and ovarian cancer too.

3) Breastfeeding creates a strong bond between you and your baby.

The bond you form with your child is one that lasts a lifetime, and it starts from the moment you first hold them. Breastfeeding your baby with your own body can form an intense bond, as the skin to skin contact helps your child feel secure and safe. Set the scene with soft lighting and a nursing pillow to keep you and your baby comfortable. Rocking them also produces a feeling of calm afterwards.

4) Breastfeeding is the cheaper financial option.

If you add up the totals, breastfeeding is definitely the cheaper option when it comes to nourishing your baby. Depending on what you purchase, a nursing pillow, pads for your bra , etc., parents can spend around $1,500 a year on formula — an expense that’s not easily affordable for a new parent with lots of baby gear to purchase. Help to keep your breastfeeding costs low by looking into purchasing a gently used breast pump, or even borrow one from a friend who is no longer using theirs.

5) Breastfeeding keeps your baby healthy.

Ounce for ounce, breast milk is more nutritious than formula. However, did you know it can also protect your baby against illness and disease? Breast milk contains special antibodies that can help your child ward off viruses and bacteria that could harm them. Additionally, breastfed babies are less likely to develop allergies, and generally make less trips to the doctor than their formula-fed counterparts.

6) Breastfeeding can set your child up for later life.

From higher IQ scores to a lower risk of childhood obesity, breast milk can set your child on a path for a great life. Though more research is required, it is currently thought that breastfeeding can even prevent certain cancers and diabetes in later life. According to the AAP, breastfeeding your child may also help to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Electing to feed your child through breastfeeding is the environmentally and financially sound option. Not only will it help to inspire closeness between you and your baby, it can also serve them well down the road as they grow. With all the benefits, it’s little wonder that more and more new mothers are turning to breastfeeding for their child’s optimal health. 

The Human Cost of Welfare Cuts

The need for welfare cuts has been the mantra of the coalition Government for some time, it has routinely argued that the current UK benefits budget is insurmountable and must be curbed if it’s to cure the already ailing welfare system. Most notably, George Osborne, Chancellor, commented that the ‘benefits system is broken’.

To remedy this situation, we have seen the introduction of several measures, such as a benefits cap on the amount of benefits a family or individual can receive which is now limited to a maximum amount, for example, £500 per week for single parents and couples with children); the replacement of disability allowance; a reduction in council tax relief and cuts to housing benefit for social housing tenants of working age who’s property is assessed as being larger than their need, commonly known as ‘bedroom tax’.

Concerns about these cuts to the welfare system and the potential human costs have been dismissed by Iain Duncan Smith, Works, and Pension Secretary, who when challenged by a caller on the BBC today’s programme If he could live on £53 pounds a week, confirmed he could, if he had too!

The prevailing government view, which is widespread, suggests that welfare dependency is a direct consequence of the existing welfare system, which can degrade people. A stance no more apparent, when the Daily Mail newspaper articulated that Mick Philpott and his family were a ‘vile product of the welfare state.’

A large family of 17 children, on benefits, Mr. Philpott was not in regular employment.  For those that have not been following this case- Mick Philpott has been jailed for the manslaughter of his six children, tragically killed in a fire started by him, his wife Mairead, and friend Paul Mosley at the family home in Derby. It is believed that Philpott, devised a plot to set fire to his house after his mistress had walked out with their five children, resulting in him losing out on benefit payments.

It would be wrong to suggest that Mr. Philpott committed this crime because he was on benefits. Perhaps, as Ms. Robb Interim Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Work (BASW) reminds us the Phillpott case should ‘not be the focus for the debate of the welfare system.’ Thankfully, cases such as these are rare.  However, the current welfare debate and Philpott case begs the following questions, what are the real human costs of the proposed changes to the welfare state? How will the ideas and assumptions of welfare changes in the UK shape and influence the future of welfare provisions?  Why have these prevailing views gained credibility?

What are the real human costs of the proposed changes to the welfare state?

Let us not forget that the ‘bedroom tax’ will result in increased rent arrears, court costs, and more people facing evictions.  Some commentators suggest that as many as 660,000 people will be forced to move from their homes, allegedly saving the government £465m. For the disabled person, living in a secure home, with the support of a live in carer in a spare bedroom, they too will be subjected to the ‘bedroom tax.’ Many disabled people will be further stigmatised by the prospect of seeking financial support from their Local Authority to live in their homes, only made possible by the recent Gorry ruling in May 2012. It is unclear whether the funds available to Local Authorities will meet actual needs.

How will the current ideas and assumptions behind the welfare changes in the UK shape the future of welfare provisions? 

A dominant and worrying feature of the debate about the welfare system has been the erosion of the principle of entitlement for all those in need.  Ideas about welfare, start from the assumption that it has created a nation of dependent, workshy individuals, that fail to manage their income, care for their children and plan for their future. Indeed, you only need to consider the case of Mick Philpott. Perhaps an equally important question is, why have these prevailing views gained credibility? Well, in truth the Government and the media to some extent have fuelled the welfare debate with powerful language and perceptions of the poor and those in need, based on the premise that they are different in fundamental ways and are a principal cause for the ills of the welfare state.  In reality, the benefits bill is going up and the primary reason is state pensions.

Furthermore, it is now a commonly held belief that large families are a strain on the welfare state, living on benefits. However, what is the actual facts? According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report in February 2012, it actually shows that the majority of large families work in semi-routine and routine occupations.

Perhaps, as the Guardian Commentator Polly Toynbee reminds us, benefit fraud cost less than 1 bn (approximately 1.5 billion US) or 0.7 percent of payments, tax avoiding costs, the Treasury at least £70bn a year (170 Billion US Dollars). It is time that the welfare debate adopts an informed and evidence based explanation of the welfare situation, moving the focus of attention from the disadvantaged and poor as the solution to the welfare system frustrations.  The human consequences of these cuts are emerging and my hope is that the Government will seek to promote a climate of equality and trust, in which the poor and those in need are not further stigmatised and pushed to the fringes of our society.

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