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Helping Alzheimer’s Patients Through Music

Published: May 13, 2011

client and caregiver

Since the day we were born and possibly even before, our mothers sang to us. Catchy little tunes like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and You Are My Sunshine followed through our growing years by age-appropriate songs that we clapped, danced and sang along to with family and friends. As we grow older, hearing certain songs sparks nostalgic feelings as we are transported back in time to the exact moments those songs first meant something to us.

Music. A universal language that transcends culture, race and religion, and also, research shows, weaves its way through the seemingly insurmountable barriers of memory loss in those who suffer dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Those who have loved ones suffering from dementia know how hard it is to watch the mental deterioration that the disease causes. Dementia affects parts of the brain that allow one to perform and remember many basic aspects of life. However, studies show there is one area in the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex, not affected by dementia until perhaps its very late stages. It is this area of the brain that governs our emotions and other sensory abilities. This part of the brain recognizes music, remembers melodies and songs, and recalls feelings those songs caused…even if those feelings were invoked long ago. This finding was helpful in moving the use of music to the forefront of activities of those suffering dementia.

Studies have shown that, during participation in activities involving music, dementia patients remember words to songs of their pasts and sing along, when moments before they could not speak a complete sentence. Some break into broad smiles of remembrance and even move with the beat. Others remember and begin speaking of events that happened within the time period of that song. Caregivers notice that music soothes agitated patients and makes them more receptive to getting dressed, eating or brushing their teeth.

One of the most exciting roles music plays is the facilitation of interaction between caregivers and people suffering dementia. Listening to music provides an avenue of activity that interests the patient when before there was none. Respite care providers such as Comfort Keepers® find music a valuable tool in establishing relationships with the people they care for. Listening to music together is a great way for the Comfort Keeper to bond with patients, laying the foundation for trust that is vitally important. Music establishes common ground, providing a fun activity for both.

The fact that music increases the levels of socialization in dementia patients is profound.  This has a direct effect on the quality of life of the dementia sufferer, and also for family members and friends, as listening to music provides a unique way to communicate and spend quality time with loved ones. After all, the simple things in life often mean the most.

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