Monday, February 10, 2020

How Music Heals Dementia | Music Think Tank

Music is a powerful tool that has the ability to take you through time. If you’ve ever been listening to a song and suddenly found yourself reliving a childhood memory or re-experiencing a strong emotion, then you can attest to this. It’s safe to say that there are endless benefits of listening to music that span across health and education, and some of those benefits that you may have experienced yourself include increased happiness and even improved sleep. Music can have numerous benefits, and this is why it’s so effective for patients when used within the context of music therapy.   

A particularly interesting area that music can make a significant impact is with individuals who have dementia. A considerable amount of research has found that music helps those who suffer memory loss as a result of dementia and Alzheimer’s. This article is going to explore how music helps such individuals and how caregivers can use it in practical ways. 

The Connection 

It is likely that you’ve heard about dementia before and maybe even have a general understanding of what it is. For those who don’t know, the Alzheimer’s Association defines it this way: “an overall term for diseases and conditions characterized by a decline in memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking skills that affect a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.” 

Alzheimer’s happens to fall under the umbrella of dementia, and it’s responsible for 50-70% of all dementia cases. Others you may be familiar with are Parkinson’s disease or Huntington’s disease. Some symptoms of both dementia and Alzheimer’s are memory impairment, a decline in the ability to think, and communication impairment. 

While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, research suggests that music can provide behavioral and emotional support. According to Bradley University, nearly 47 million people suffer from dementia, so the fact that music, which is accessible to so many people, can be used to treat it is phenomenal. Patients with dementia can find it hard to communicate, so music therapy may be a strategy that caregivers can use to bridge the gap and help maintain a connection. We’ll go into more detail about how exactly it heals dementia below. 

Triggers Fond Memories

When you have Alzheimer’s, communication between neurons in the brain are disrupted. This results in loss of function, cell death, and eventually many brain regions shrinking. That is, all but the parts of your brain connected to musical memory which are surprisingly still intact. In Jonathan Graff-Radford’s response to the question How Can Music Help People Who Have Alzheimer’s Disease, he explains this by saying: “Musical memories are often preserved in Alzheimer’s disease because key brain areas linked to musical memory are relatively undamaged by the disease.”

In light of this, music therapy is able to trigger fond musical memories for dementia patients. Listening to music can help them relive memories attached to the songs they hear. Researchers from University of Utah Health did a study on the salience network of the brain in order to develop music-based treatments for patients with dementia. They found that it’s important that family members caring for someone with dementia choose personally meaningful music, as it’s a more exact method of communicating with those who may struggle otherwise. 

To help you do this, ask close friends and family for song suggestions. For instance, you could ask their sibling what one of their favorite songs growing up was. If you care for someone with Alzheimer’s and you notice their mood is low, getting out your smartphone or tablet and streaming this kind of music could help trigger pleasant memories. 

Music can also be used to create new memories and help patients develop a routine. If activities are paired with different songs, it could help them find a daily rhythm. Ones that have been recommended for music therapists are  ‘Amazing Grace’, ‘Lean on Me’, and You Are My Sunshine.’

Prevents Further Decay 

When music is played or learned, the brain is stimulated, and it can prevent further decay. This is because it helps improve cognitive function. Behavioral studies have even shown that music can improve some cognitive functions in people with Alzheimer’s disease. It does so by evoking involuntary autobiographical memories which then trigger emotional responses. 

While the brain is affected as you age, it doesn’t have to lead to dementia. This may especially be true if different healthy aging tips are put into practice. For instance, you could decide to study a musical instrument as a way of learning new things and keeping your brain active. When you learn new skills, you slow down cognitive aging and boost your brainpower. Eliminating as much stress and anxiety as you can is another secret to healthy aging. 

Helps Manage Mood 

Dementia patients often find themselves in an unfamiliar world as a result of their memory decline, which can result in them feeling both out of place and anxious. However, music can be used to lift their moods. Jace King, one of the authors in the University of Utah Health study mentioned above, made a statement about how music can be mood-lifting for Alzheimer patients. He stated: “When you put headphones on dementia patients and play familiar music, they come alive… Music is like an anchor, grounding the patient back in reality.”

Music is also a useful tool to use for dementia patients as they sometimes struggle with depression. A recent analysis suggests that 1 in 6 people who has dementia also battles major depressive disorder.

Music therapy can be beneficial as it can be used as a mood-booster. It releases dopamine in the brain which is a chemical that triggers happiness and love. If you’ve ever wondered why when you listen to certain songs, your mood is suddenly lifted to unimaginable heights, this may be one reason why. 

The bottom line is that music can make dementia symptoms more manageable and improve quality of life for those struggling with memory loss. If ever you have to care for someone with dementia, remember music could make the world of a difference for them. 



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