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How Does Music Help Dementia Patients

Heres How To Build The Perfect Playlist For Your Loved One

Music Used As Therapy For Dementia Patients

1. Find songs with personal meaning.

Listening to old favorites can bring back joy and make potentially troublesome activities of daily living such as bathing or dressing go more smoothly. Do they love classic rock, smooth jazz, or traditional hymns? Depending on their stage of dementia, your loved one may be able to tell you their favorite songs. Older family members may also be able to recall tunes that are special to them.

2. Include stimulating music from their youth.

Look at the top pop songs from your loved ones young adult years. For example, if they were born in the 1930s, look at the music charts from the late 1940s and 1950s.

Stimulating big band, swing, and salsa music can inspire dance and movement in people with dementia, providing much needed physical exercise, entertainment, and excitement.

3. Use soothing songs to reduce agitation.

Seniors experiencing agitation, a common dementia behavior, can find great comfort in music.

I can attest, with some exceptions music that is familiar and loved by the agitated person somehow naturally and miraculously redirects their emotions and their focus, says King.

Classical music may also be helpful in calming someone whos upset, says Scott. We know a lot of agitation comes from pain or unmet needs, but music can promote rhythmic breathing, relaxation, and help someone who may be anxious calm down, says Scott.

4. Evoke happy memories through sing-along classics.

Carrying Out Music Therapy Yourself To Help Alzheimer’s

While caregivers might not be certified music therapists, it is very common to find music interventions playing a key role in the life of a memory care community. Anyone, including family members, can use music interventions to promote comfort and joy in the senior as well as in the caregiver. Here are a few tips to get you started:

What This Means For You

A small pilot study showed that regularly listening to familiar, loved music might have brain benefits for people with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimers disease.

Even though the study was small, it demonstrates that music holds promise as a way to improve the lives of people with mild forms of dementia, even if they were never professional musicians.

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What A Music Therapist Does

A music therapist is trained to use music as a tool to help participants meet their wellness goals, which include the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of those they serve. In order for them to develop a treatment plan, they will begin with an assessment to learn more about the participants medical history, personal history, preferences, and challenges. Then, they will develop a plan of care that details music interventions that will help the participant work toward those goals.

Music therapists use a variety of interventions with participants, including sing-a-long sessions, breathing exercises, drumming, and other movements set to music. They can even play music for the participant, which is something you see often with those living with dementia, especially in the later stages of the disease. For example, it is common for music therapists to be on the staff of hospice organizations, arriving to play the harp or other instrument for seniors who receive hospice care.

Music In Early Stage Alzheimers

Music Therapy for Dementia Patients

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, many people enjoy playing music or singing. Encourage them to continue to be involved in music it may be an area in which they can feel success and accomplishment, and be encouraged by its beauty.

You can also make compilation recordings of their favorite songs, which are often songs or music that date back to their younger and middle years. Some older adults may have strong spiritual beliefs and will appreciate songs of faith.

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Music In Late Stage Alzheimers

In the later stages of Alzheimer’s, music is often used as a way to connect with a loved one and evoke a response. People may enjoy listening to the recordings you made in the earlier stages of dementia of their favorite songs.

Familiar music may be able to calm someone who’s restless or uncomfortable in the end stages of life. Some people with severe Alzheimer’s will mouth the words of a familiar song upon hearing it, and visibly relax and rest in the midst of music.

Additional Benefits Of Music

Active participation in musical activities also has many benefits. These may include singing, such as sing-along programs, or participation in choirs. Singing is proven to release oxytocin, which leads to reduced anxiety and stress. Group singing promotes relationships and trust. In addition to the pleasure of singing, there are physical benefits. Singing increases lung capacity and improves immunity. Increased oxygenation of the blood leads to feeling more alert. Singing along with favorite musicals on a video player is easy to do at home.

Group musical activities encourage personal expression and group bonding, as well as the pleasure of making music. Persons with Alzheimer’s can, for example, play simple percussion instruments as part of a group musical activity. Drum circles are fun and beneficial. They are a physical outlet and may improve motor function. These activities may be led by community musicians, recreational therapists, or music therapists.

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Related Articles For Interesting Medical Cases Of Brain Music

Musics brainwave power is always making a case for itself in the news too. From music helping memories return to waking up coma patients, musics power over the brain has been shown, though there is still so much to understand about the relationship.

Here are a few articles that show musics power over the brain:

The Darbari Kanada raag of Hindustani music has been effectively used as a therapy by a Kolkata-based doctor to help a young girl come out of the coma.

Thats right. The rendition of Darbari Kanada by violinist N Rajam has gone viral as a little girl cure for a coma. Learn how listening to a song 3 times a day brought back a little girls brain activity in this article.

Its not just us going crazy about music for dementia and Alzheimers patients. Its seriously everywhere. All of the major Alzheimers and dementia resources online have something to say about music therapy for Alzheimers and dementia.

Music has been investigated before as a potential therapy for dementia patients. While it cant reverse or stop the disease, scientists say that it can reduce agitation in patients and even boost mood in caregivers. And thats enough for researchers to start implementing music as a daily routine.

What Are The Benefits

Music therapy helps dementia patients

Music can be a useful way to change somebodys mood, especially during personal care. For instance, if a person diagnosed with dementia resists your efforts to help them get dressed, playing soothing music or a favourite song can help lessen any distress.

Music helps people with dementia express feelings and ideas.

Music can help the person connect with others around them.

It can encourage social interaction and promotes activity in groups.

It can reduce social isolation.

It can facilitate physical exercise and dance or movement.

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How Music Awakens Those With Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Recent data indicate that approximately 5.7 million people in the U.S. suffer from Alzheimer’s. This includes an estimated 5.5 million people over the age of 65. For an individual with Alzheimer’s, the language and memory centers are particularly damaged by the disease. However, the area of the brain which is responsible for attention stays relatively functional. This is the same part of the brain that registers music in a healthy person. Researchers and scientists are studying why music affects memory and how music can be used to help those with Alzheimer’s.

Does This Only Work For Dementia Patients

Of course not! Music is a wonderful brain stimulus for people of every age. Research has shown that playing music at all ages helps the brain grow it ways it normally wouldnt. Researchers at Heidelberg University in Germany discovered that people who play music have more sensitive brains. This sensitivity is built from more connections in the brain being used. In some ways, playing music unlocks the brain.

Playing music from a young age is a great way to help any grow and feel more. From birth to death, music can make a positive impact on your life, especially if you play it.

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How Does Music Help Dementia Patients

Music therapy can help dementia patients stay on top of their game physically and mentally. Even if your loved one is confined to a chair, or physically disabled, there are ways to help your loved one play and listen to music.

Music is one of those unique activities that utilizes both the left and right sides of the brain. For those who dont know, the left side of your brain is responsible for tasks like math, logic, and numbers, while the right side leans more towards art, creativity, and musical awareness. Playing music is a great exercise for both parts of the brain.

Sheet music is broken down mathematically. Different note lengths dictate the way the music uses the beats of each measure. The combination of the measures create the music you play, hear, and enjoy. Playing music exercises your mind, dexterity, hand-eye coordination, memory, cognitive flexibility, and auditory skills.

Early Stages of Dementia and Music Therapy

If you are just listening to music, you should talk to your loved one about their music taste. Trying putting a list together of their favorite music and genres. This might come in handy down the line, as music therapy tends to shift more towards listening as the disease progresses. Having their preferences will help your make playlists, and those could trigger lost memories if they strike the right chord!

Middle Stages of Dementia and Music Therapy

How Music Can Encourage Bonding

How Music Therapy Can Help People with Dementia

In the late stages of dementia, your loved one might withdraw from you and other family members. That’s because they can no longer express love and affection as effectively as before.

Music can help fill the gap when methods of affection have been lost. Through music, you can encourage loved ones to tap into their emotions. You can ease into hugging or dancing. At the very least, you can enjoy a moment of contentment and relaxation together.

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Benefits Of Music Therapy

The aim of music therapy in people with dementia is to address emotions, cognitive powers, thoughts, and memoriesto stimulate them and bring them to the fore. It aims to enrich and give freedom, stability, organization, and focus. Evaluation of music therapy and its impact is a complex task. Clinically significant changes are often highly individual and standardized outcome measures may not always portray what matters most. No studies before 2014 used dementia-specific validated music therapy outcome measures. In an articled entitled The Development of Music in Dementia Assessment Scales , investigators sought to obtain a deeper understanding on the meaning and value of music for people with Dementia.22 They elected to engage three focus groupsfamily caregivers, care home staff, and music therapistsin addition to dementia patients, who play an important role in giving an opinion on how music plays a role in dementia. The focus groups and interviews aimed to investigate the meaning and experience of music for people with dementia and observed the effects of music. The key questions asked in these groups were:

To people with dementia: What does music mean to you? What do you think of your music therapy/music activities? In what way is music important to you?

To families, staff, and therapists: What changes and responses do you observe in your families/clients following music therapy or music activities? How do you know if music is meaningful to the person?

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I remember a patient who hardly spoke, and due to COVID-19, her family based overseas could not visit.

During a video call with her family, her young grandchildren picked the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to sing to her.

While playing guitar for them, I saw this patient light up in response to their voices. Soon she started singing along and raised her hands, opening and closing her palms like a star.

For persons with dementia, music is a powerful motivator for engagement that also encourages movement.

Music can be a means for them to channel and expend energy in a natural way, giving them opportunity to be creative and be themselves. Music can also maintain muscle memory to some extent.

I remember instances of patients retaining the ability to play instruments, or even doing air guitar at the sound of the guitar.

In effect, there is an automatic synchronisation of neural activity, physical movement, as well as ones heart and respiratory rate with the rhythmic cues in music.

Mostly, music is a great lifter of moods. In music therapy, we encourage patients to choose what kind of music they would like to hear.

A common principle is meeting the mood of the person in that moment. For example, while slow, calming music is typically chosen for relaxation, there was an instance in music therapy where a patient chose loud and fast piano music instead. This music for him was cathartic.

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How You Can Help Your Loved One Retrieve Lost Memories

Based on studies, it is possible for you to help your loved one affected by dementia to recall their treasured memories and help provide them a sense of happiness and hope. You can simply create a playlist of their favorite songs on an MP3 player or an iPod, which they can listen to as often as they like.

Whether it is rock, jazz, classical, or instrumental, music can take them down memory lane and elicit some wonderful stored memories. Upbeat music can lift their mood while relaxing songs can be therapeutic and soothing. Additionally, you can encourage them to clap, dance or sing along while you join them to share the moment.

Music And Dementia: Looking At The Data

Music helps composer with dementia find new lease on life | Humankind

Musical perception, musical emotion, and musical memory can survive long after other forms of memory and cognitive function have disappeared. In non-demented Parkinsons disease, music therapy can lead to fluent motor flow, such as dancing. But once the music stops, so does the improvement in motor function. In dementia it can improve mood, behavior, and in some cases cognitive function, which can persist for hours and days after the music stops. Music also does not need to be familiar to exert these improvements and one does not need to have any formal knowledge of music or be musically inclined to enjoy music and respond to it at the deepest level.

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Benefits Of Music Therapy For Alzheimer’s Patients

The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapy is used for a variety of special populations, including those living with Alzheimers disease or another type of dementia. Music can be used as a tool to give seniors a wide array of therapeutic benefits.

Putting Music Therapy To Use For Your Loved One

Music therapy for dementia is one of those practices anyone can take part in. Its really easy to put together playlists of your loved ones favorite tune, and there are countless ways to get involved in making music. From choirs devoted to raising awareness for dementia patients to the local choirs seeing for the assisted living community, there are so many ways to get music into a dementia patients daily activity.

Assisted living homes love to work with you to make accommodations for your loved one. With that being said, dont hesitate to reach out to them for assistance. Work with your loved ones community organizers to plan music events for the home. Especially if you arent familiar with the area, working with the home helps you make events that are possible, and stops you from planning beyond their means. It might also be a good idea to make sure that wont affect the cost of assisted care for your loved one.

Look around your local community, too. Activities like the Giving Voices Chorus are all over the place, but you have to look for them. Many of these amazing groups go underfunded and understaffed, so finding them might be a challenge if you dont know where to look.

If you are still lost, try contacting your local government about music programs for your loved one with dementia. They might know of a small group around town, or they might be able to help allocate funding to a program.

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What Type Of Music

Many studies attest to the effectiveness of individualized music therapy in patients with dementia.2225 The use of one-to-one music therapy in dementia is limited in clinical practice by significant cost factors. Ambient music, whereby music is played through a sound system, can be used to modify clinical environments in a cost-effective way.

Previous studies have shown benefit to patients when ambient music is used in a variety of clinical settings. These include outpatient procedures,26,27 postoperative recovery,28 and geriatric care settings.2931 The use of patient-preferred music where patients are given a selection of music from which to choose is problematic. Allowing patients, particularly in dementia units, to choose their own music or to agree upon any particular music would be logistically challenging and difficult. One study showed benefit to two patients exposed to preferred music or nonpreferred music using headphones, but the study had only three patients in total and observation times were limited to 20 minutes per day.32

Reminiscence-based music therapy has been found to be effective in the treatment of depressive symptoms in people with dementia.33 Patients respond better to familiar rather than unfamiliar music. It may be that early on in the development of dementia the patients musical preferences should be sought and stored for use in reminiscence-based therapy at a later stage.


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