Benefits of Music Therapy for Dementia

Dementia is a heartbreaking condition. Watching as parents, grandparents, and friends grow increasingly out of touch isn’t easy for anyone. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly six million Americans who are 65 or older are living with some form of dementia. Experts predict that number will balloon to 14 million by 2050.

Medical science has only produced prescription drugs that can treat the symptoms. Given that dementia takes more lives than breast or prostate cancer each year, slowing cognitive decline is major focus of assisted living communities and caregivers. Thankfully, certain activities stimulate the brain and buoy people’s awareness. Music therapy, for instance, has demonstrated promising results as a treatment for dementia.

How Music Therapy Works

Results from treatments such as music therapy cannot be quantified like clinical trials. What makes this therapy especially difficult for scientists to study is that we know little about how the brain processes music. However, we do know that music is processed at multiple levels and regions of the brain. This means that music therapy has a high likelihood of stimulating impaired brain cells in affected areas.

Professionals who use music therapy to treat dementia are convinced that the process produces quality of life benefits. After all, music is a cross-cultural means of communicating. People experience mood changes from music in both their native and non-native languages. They are also affected by musical scores.

Though music therapy can look very different depending on the practitioner, specialists generally break it into two types—active and passive.

What Is Passive Music Therapy?

Passive music therapy remains one of the easiest ways that caregivers can help stimulate brain function. This type simply involves playing different genres and observing which have a positive effect. While the name seems to suggest relaxing genres, passive music therapy can also involve upbeat, fast-paced tunes. Caregivers and professionals who practice music therapy often find that familiar songs stimulate brain activity more so than unfamiliar ones. It’s not unusual for people to sing along as their memories are triggered.

What Is Active Music Therapy?

Active music therapy requires some level of engagement from the person with dementia. This may include singing along or using simple instruments like a drum, harmonica, recorder, or tambourine. This hope is to encourage the person to follow the beat or add sound. It is also helpful for the individual with dementia to hum or sing.
Anecdotal reports even claim that music therapy can help restore speech for those suffering from non-verbal dementia, a stage at which individuals lose the ability to talk. In many instances, these individuals have sung along to familiar and cherished songs during a music therapy session.

What Are the Benefits of Music Therapy?

Though there is widespread agreement that music therapy alone cannot reverse Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, the quality-of-life benefits can be substantial.

Today’s Geriatric Medicine highlights many of these benefits. Research indicates that music therapy is particularly effective in older people because it connects them with the feelings and emotions of specific life events. A wartime ballad, for instance, may evoke memories for veterans. Music can also:

● Prompt stress relief
● Minimize the impact of anxiety
● Reduce feelings of depression
● Minimize agitation commonly associated with dementia
● Improve memory recall
● Afford positive mood swings
● Restore a sense of control over daily life
● Manage pain
● Stimulate interest and curiosity
● Promote vocal fluency

How Can Caregivers Use Music Therapy?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a reported 16 million Americans volunteer as unpaid caregivers for a parent or grandparent with dementia. If you are among those helping someone with dementia, music therapy can provide quality of life improvements and lighten your load. These are four tips worth considering:

1. Music Preferences: As a younger caregiver, it’s essential that you step outside of your preferred genres. Think about the songs that were popular during the person’s lifetime. Keep in mind that someone 65 or older was born in 1955 or before. Their age points to music popularized in the 1970s, 1960s, and 1950s among other decades. Soft rock, rock and roll, swing, rhythm and blues, and jazz might go over well.

2. Set Moods: Music can be instrumental in setting a particular mood. Passive music therapy proves particularly useful in reducing stress and agitation. That being said, if an individual is prone to emotional outbursts, calming music can help. However, if an individual is prone to depression or sadness, a faster-paced genre may be better.

3. Less Is More: Music therapy is not a 24-7 solution. Like anything, overstimulation can result in diminishing returns. Infusing music at specific times or on an as-needed basis will prove more effective than continually playing music. It’s also important to eliminate competing noises whenever possible.

4. Pay Attention: Music has wide-reaching effects on all of us. While some songs lighten our mood, others can have the exact opposite effect. Monitor the person’s behavior when playing selections. You may see a spark of recognition from some and less from others. Likewise, moods can also be positively or negatively impacted. Make a list of effective songs and avoid others.

Until we have a cure for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, multifaceted treatments are necessary to maintain the best quality of life possible. Music therapy can make a significant difference.
Memory Care at Heritage

At Heritage, we provide personalized programs for residents in our memory care community in Marietta, Georgia. Our team of compassionate professionals is committed to delivering personalized treatment that empowers residents to enjoy the best quality of life possible. For more information about our memory care community, contact Heritage for a consultation today.