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Alzheimer’s and Music

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Alzheimer’s and Music

Melody vs. Malady: The Benefits of Music for Alzheimer’s Patients

In the world of Alzheimer’s research, a wide range of methods of treating the disease have been tested, ranging from the logical to the unorthodox. Falling somewhere in the middle of that spectrum is the activity of listening to music, which has recently been shown to benefit Alzheimer’s patients in a noticeable way. Read on to find out more about the connection between music and Alzheimer’s patients’ health!

Study Shows Music Can Boost Memory in Alzheimer’s Patients

A group of neuroscientists conducted a study with Alzheimer’s patients and dementia to see how they responded over several months to the introduction of music to their weekly routine. Their test group attended “music sessions” where they either listened to or sang along with childhood favorite tunes. The familiarity of the songs could be a key to the successes of the experiment that were documented; because singing along with them required recalling lyrics and tunes from years ago, it helped to stimulate the participants’ memories and thus their overall cognitive function.

The study showed specifically that singing along to music helped with thinking skills, but that is not all. In addition to benefitting the cognitive abilities of Alzheimer’s patients, music has also been linked to stress reduction and mood enhancement. It is a natural way to combat depression-like symptoms and is easily incorporated into a daily routine. You can listen to music while cooking dinner, reading, or as an activity in and of itself to bring a dose of memory-boosting enjoyment to your day!

When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements.

This happens because rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues. A person’s ability to engage in music, particularly rhythm playing and singing, remains intact late into the disease process because, again, these activities do not mandate cognitive functioning for success. Most people associate music with important events and a wide array of emotions. The connection can be so strong that hearing a tune long after the occurrence evokes a memory of it.

If the links with the music are unknown, it is difficult to predict an individual’s response. Therefore, observe a person’s reaction to a particular arrangement and discontinue it if it evokes distress, such as agitation, facial grimaces or increasing muscular tension.

 Selections from the individual’s young adult years—ages 18 to 25—are most likely to have the strongest responses and the most potential for engagement.

Unfamiliar music can also be beneficial because it carries no memories or emotions. This may be the best choice when developing new responses, such as physical relaxation designed to manage stress or enhance sleep.

As individuals progress into late-stage dementia, music from their childhood, such as folk songs, work well. Singing these songs in the language in which they were learned sparks the greatest involvement.

Non-verbal individuals in late dementia often become agitated out of frustration and sensory overload from the inability to process environmental stimuli. Engaging them in singing, rhythm playing, dancing, physical exercise, and other structured music activities can diffuse this behavior and redirect their attention.

For best outcomes, carefully observe an individual’s patterns in order to use music therapies just prior to the time of day when disruptive behaviors usually occur.

How-to of music therapy:

 Early stage—

  Go out dancing or dance in the house. 

  Listen to music that the person liked in the past—whether swing or Sinatra or salsa. Recognize that perceptual changes can alter the way individuals with dementia hear music. If they say it sounds horrible, turn it off; it may to them. 

  Experiment with various types of concerts and venues, giving consideration to endurance and temperament. 

  Encourage an individual who played an instrument to try it again. 

  Compile a musical history of favorite recordings, which can be used to help in reminiscence and memory recall.

Early and middle stages—

  Use song sheets or a karaoke player so the individual can sing along with old-time favorites.

Middle stage—

  Play music or sing as the individual is walking to improve balance or gait. 

  Use background music to enhance mood. 

  Opt for relaxing music—a familiar, non-rhythmic song—to reduce sundowning, or behavior problems at nighttime.

Late stage—

  Utilize the music collection of old favorites that you made earlier. 

  Do sing-alongs, with “When the Saints Go Marching In” or other tunes sung by rote in that person’s generation. 

  Play soothing music to provide a sense of comfort. 

  Exercise to music. 

  Do drumming or other rhythm-based activities.

  Use facial expressions to communicate feelings when involved in these activities.

The information above was provided from the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

As Alzheimer’s treatments continue to develop, doctors will discover more about the unexpected benefits of listening to music and other activities for Alzheimer’s patients. More and more homes, assisted living facilities, and in-home care companies are using music therapy as part of their daily routine to help those suffering with Alzheimer’s remember their past. One of the tools they are using is an iPod, loaded with the client’s favorite songs so they can listen with headphones on, which helps the listening process as well because it helps to drown out the surrounding noises that can be distracting.


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