Music Therapy for Dementia

Music Therapy for Dementia

Music has a complex effect on the brain. The auditory nerve has a direct contact to the “fight or flight” region of the brain known as the amygdala, and the immediate response to music is generally arousal. Think about how you feel when a favorite song comes on the radio. You can’t help but sing along, tap your toes, or even just close your eyes, engage and listen closely to the lyrics. It’s for this reason that research has been conducted regarding music and dementia. Music therapy programs have been implemented in senior living communities and care centers across the country due to the positive effects it has been shown to have on the brain, cognition and behaviors.

Music and Dementia: Evoking Memories of the Past and More

The Older Americans Act of 1992 defined music therapy as “the use of musical or rhythmic interventions specifically selected by a music therapist to accomplish the restoration, maintenance, or improvement of social or emotional functioning, mental processing, or physical health of an older individual.” In times of stress or sadness, music can boost one’s mood and bring comfort, while also evoking feelings of positivity and happiness. Music therapy is an innovative treatment for dementia with many benefits, and music therapists have noted amazing results when working with individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Some of these main benefits include:

  • A positive effect on memory recall and thought processing. Music therapy positively impacts memory retention and overall thought processing in those with dementia. This is due to the fact that many people associate music with past events, so hearing just one song can evoke a memory of a time long since passed. When given the opportunity to listen to music from childhood or the young adult years, music therapists often receive a positive response from those with dementia.
  • Offering a form of communication. Research revealed those in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease who had become nonverbal found a way to respond to music that was meaningful to them. Studies have shown that even when one loses the ability to speak, the ability to recognize and even hum or sing a favorite song remains. Music therapy can help slow the deterioration of speech and language skills, as many individuals are able to speak clearer, answer questions, and make decisions following a therapy session.
  • Inspiring movement for enhanced physical skills. Even if the individual is no longer mobile, with music comes movement. Music encourages dancing, toe-tapping, clapping, and head bobbing, which gets the blood flowing again. This, in turn, improves physical skills like coordination and endurance.
  • Providing an opportunity for social engagement. Music has a way of bringing people together, allowing for a way to connect both physically and emotionally. It can encourage bonding with others, whether it’s other residents, the professional staff, or loved ones, helping to alleviate the feelings of isolation and depression many individuals with dementia can face.
  • Reducing stress levels and negative behaviors. When individuals are in the midst of stress-induced agitation, a common behavioral expression for those with dementia, listening to music can help bring calmness, ease aggression, and encourage positive interactions. If nighttime aggression is an issue, playing slow songs like ballads or lullabies in the evening hours can effectively relax individuals to prepare them for bed.

Specialized Memory Care for a Full Life at Advent Christian Village

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