One of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s is dementia, the loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, and judgement Tragically, there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, and it affects millions of people every day.
Alzheimer’s does not just affect people diagnosed with the disease. It also affects family, friends, and coworkers. And although it might seem like a given, Alzheimer’s also affects caregivers, regardless if it is a family member taking care of someone at home or a nursing home employee.
However by using music therapy, medical professionals are able to improve quality of life for Alzheimer’s patients. Even patients who are unable to communicate with language can express themselves through various forms of music.
Some of these forms may include listening to music, interactive singing and clapping, playing instruments, or self-directed music activities on a digital device, like an MP3 player or an iPad. While it is not a cure for Alzheimer’s, music therapy does show marked improvement in symptoms.
Benefits for Every Stage of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (www.alzfdn.org) describes methods that a music therapist to achieve success with a patient. Here are some of the activities that they suggest for each stage of the disease.
Early Stage – Dancing, listening to favorite music from the past, picking up an instrument they used to play, determine a queue of musical favorites that can be used as the disease progresses and dementia becomes more serious.
Middle Stage – During the early middle stages, karaoke can help individuals sing along with their favorite tunes from yesteryear. Music used in conjunction with physical therapy can help improve skills such as walking and even reduce behavior problems during transition times, like going to dinner or bedtime routines.
Later Stage – Sing-alongs using tunes chronicled during the early stage can provide a sense of comfort. Individuals who are still fairly mobile may benefit from exercising to music. Rhythm based activities that involved clapping or drumming can keep individuals engaged for a longer time period.
Why Music Works
Music attaches itself to recollections from our past. It has the ability to stimulate these memories and bring them to the forefront of our thinking. Music that brings up a positive memory, like a wedding, birth of a child, or a special event with family or friends, can reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Patients who receive music therapy are more relaxed, less agitated, and tend to act out less during the sundown time of day, which is typically high-stress for Alzheimer’s patients. They are also more likely to interact with others after a music therapy session.
However music therapy can also work as a sensory stimulation. Using music during transition times like bathing, meals, or bedtime can help reduce aggressive behavior as well as verbal agitation.
Benefits of Hands-On Music Therapy
There are plenty of benefits to hands-on music therapy for Alzheimer’s patients. If a patient knew how to play an instrument before, then picking it back up could help improve their memory. That’s because practice involves repetition which helps relax the individual and reduce dementia symptoms.
For example an Alzheimer’s patient who uses an iPad can learn piano scales even if they do not have the dexterity to sit at a piano bench to play the actual instrument. This is because using the tablet device allows them to play by just tapping or swiping along the screen.
Music therapy does not only benefit Alzheimer’s patients, though. It has also been known to help those diagnosed with cancer, victims of traumatic experiences, and individuals who suffer from things like neurologic disorders.
Music as a Communication Tool
Even Alzheimer’s patients who cannot communicate vocally and are otherwise unresponsive all day can communicate with music. They can come out of a near-catatonic state upon hearing a song that is special to them and sing along with the lyrics in perfect harmony.
Non-verbal Alzheimer’s patients can actually communicate through music therapy. Despite the fact that they cannot speak, they can create art such as painting or sculpture, dance, or play an instrument while music that matches their mood is playing.
Music is also used to shift mood. For example if an individual is acting extremely agitated then soothing music can help bring them to a calmer, more relaxed state. And if a patient is unresponsive then stimulating music can cause them to react, even if it is something minor like shuffling their feet.
About the Author
Freelance writer Melissa Cameron is mother to a two of busy, growing kids. Whether they are searching junk yards for old relics to add to the family man cave or having a sing-along around the camp fire, music is a big part of their lives. When Melissa isn’t writing or spending time with her husband and kids, she enjoys getting back to nature with hiking and kayaking.