Music Therapy for Dementia – Can You Unlock Memories?

“Music is the medicine of the mind.”

The power of music should not be underestimated. It evokes human emotion, supports human connection, and has been shown to have profound effects on the human brain.

Based on the available research, many scientists and healthcare professionals are becoming interested in the beneficial uses of music therapy among Alzheimer’s patients. By decreasing medication use and improving symptoms, it is a non-invasive, cost-effective therapy option for all.

New Research Calls For More Music Therapy Funding

Numerous studies have reported a positive correlation between music therapy and dementia, yet only 5 percent of care homes are using it effectively. In one recent study, researchers were interested in the clinical improvement profile of Alzheimer’s patients who participated in music therapy.

The researchers studied 42 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s who underwent six weeks of music therapy. What they found was that following music therapy, significant improvements were observed in regards to depression, anxiety, orientation, and even memory. These improvements were reported in both mild and moderate cases.

These positive effects on behavior and cognition were appreciable after just four music therapy sessions. The researchers suggested combining music and dance therapy, as this could also improve functional and motor impairment.

Awakening Memories with Music

After going viral on YouTube, the world was introduced to the Music and Memory organization. By giving seniors iPods and access to music, many individuals who were withdrawn and unable to communicate came to life. By creating personalized playlists, patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s have been shown to reconnect with their past memories.

While studying the brain, our senses, including smell and sight light up a very small portion of the brain. However, music has been shown to light up many areas of the brain. This is encouraging because even if certain parts of the brain have deteriorated, other areas are still active.

As stated in an article by Today’s Geriatric Medicine, there was one woman who had been living with severe Alzheimer’s. While living in the facility, she never spoke. Instead, she would make a repetitive clicking noise with her mouth. Nobody was able to communicate with her so the musical therapist conducted a session one day.

Recognizing the rhythm of the clicking noise, he began playing ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’ on the keyboard. As he played, the women opened her eyes and began to sing along. It was later understood that this had been her wedding song. Being a deep-rooted and soothing memory, music helped her access the words to this special song.

Improving Communication Through Music

As symptoms of Alzheimer’s progress, language deteriorates and patients begin to speak less and less. However, music has been shown to improve communication among Alzheimer’s patients, sparking spontaneous conversations about the songs and the memories that the songs triggered.

As mentioned, personalizing music can further enhance the effectiveness of music therapy. Not only can it improve engagement and communication, it is believed to reduce the experience of isolation.

If you currently care for someone at home, music therapy is an ideal way to regulate mood and help pace the day. It is an easy way to make both you and your loved one calm and happy. And occasionally, individuals living with Alzheimer’s will experience moments of clarity.

At-home tips

As suggested, focus on music that is individualized. Also, try different types of music. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • If you’re unsure what the best what of music is, start with the music era associated with their 20s. Conduct a Google search regarding musical hits from when they were between the age of 20 and 35.

  • Play a soundtrack from a classic movie or musical. TV-show theme songs and Christmas carols are also an optimal choice.

  • If the individual you are caring for used to play an instrument, either play instrumental pieces or if possible, play the instrument itself.

  • For those who grew up with the individual you’re caring for, what genres were played in the house? If they loved jazz, for instance, look up “best of” albums.

Whether you’re cleaning the house, gardening, or preparing dinner, start using music as a form of therapy. When visiting a loved one in a care home, bring along a personalized playlist. After all, Elton John said it best, “Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.”

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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