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The Benefit of Music Therapy for Alzheimer's & Dementia

two seniors clink their wine glasses while sitting on their couch

You’re surrounded by music, whether you know it or not. You hear it while you’re out shopping, sitting in restaurants and during commercials. Outside of happenstance, you probably immerse yourself in music recreationally, by playing an instrument, going to concerts or just blasting it and singing along while you’re alone. Music moves hearts and minds. It’s so powerful and evocative that it can transport you to particularly important times in your life. Do you ever hear a certain song that really takes you back? 

Music therapy can be a great resource for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Music therapy is a fun and often comforting way for your loved one to engage with memory care. Some patients have seen very promising results using music therapy as a means to stimulate the brain. Here’s why introducing music therapy into your loved one’s care plan could be a great choice for your family. 

How Does Alzheimer’s And Dementia Affect The Brain?

To understand why music therapy helps patients, it’s important to understand how Alzheimer’s disease and dementia function. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain.” Unfortunately, this accumulation of proteins eventually leads to the death of brain cells. Groupings of these abnormal proteins block communication signals in the brain. This blockage usually begins in the part of the brain that’s in charge of memory, which is why one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. Other symptoms include confusion and abnormal changes in personality.

Dementia is a blanket term for symptoms that influence memory, thinking and socializing. Many types of diseases can cause dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Thankfully, music therapy is a drug-free way to soothe and minimize some of the symptoms common in both dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Why Does Music Therapy Help With Memory Care?

The part of the brain that stores musical memory—the auditory cortex—isn’t where other types of memories are held. As a result, your loved one’s musical memories go mostly untouched by Alzheimer’s disease. Music therapy can reduce stress, agitation and anxiety for those with memory difficulties. It can also bring comfort when situations are particularly confusing. 

Music therapy encourages physical activity, like swaying and clapping as well as promotes engagement with others through singing. Familiar music can be a mood booster. In some accounts, singing and playing familiar songs have helped caretakers engage with their family members again. In an interview with NPR, a retired opera singer explained how she was able to reconnect with her mom who was living with dementia through music therapy. After singing, her mom was able to recognize her daughter and hold some conversation. As a result, the family incorporated music therapy as a regular part of their mom’s memory care

What Kind Of Music Is Good To Introduce During Music Therapy?

Everyone has different musical tastes, so one genre of music might work better for your loved one over others. It’s important to experiment. Play some of their favorite songs. Have fun with music therapy yourself. Sing along and encourage them to do the same. 

Reduce distractions, by turning off other devices and closing the door, so they’re not overstimulated by noise. If a type of music agitates them, turn it to something else. Play whatever your loved one responds to best. If your loved one was a musician, supply them with their instrument and play some of the songs they used to love to play. You may be surprised to find that they’re still pretty masterful musicians. 

It’s important to note that music therapy may not work for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a try. The effects of music therapy are still being studied, but overall it seems to have positively influenced those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. If your loved one’s care facility doesn’t supply a music therapist, consider hiring someone outside to lead them through the exercises. 

Fedelta is your go-to resource for in-home caregivers. Make sure to reach out to one of our experts to get your free consultation today.

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