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Exploring Music Therapy for Dementia Patients

Songwriters have repeatedly compared melodies to memories. More than once, they’ve pointed out that both can take you back in time to moments gone but never forgotten because of the important chord that they touched. Funnily enough, researchers believe the comparison is more than poetic license. Music truly does connect with memory in a way that lingers and, with the use of music therapy for dementia patients, may offer a chance to heal.

Exploring Music Therapy for Dementia Patients

Even musicians who improvise start with a framework. In this case, understanding exactly what dementia is and what music therapy entails is essential. Armed with that information, you can explore how music therapy can assist those dealing with dementia.

Diagnosing Dementia

Dementia is a general term that covers a loss of cognitive function that interferes with everyday function. While dementia often strikes older adults, it isn’t just a natural part of getting older. Alzheimer’s disease is actually the most common cause of dementia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which predicts some 14 million people may be dealing with dementia by 2060.

Sounding Out Music Therapy

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) defines music therapy as “clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional.” Pointing out that the idea of music as a healing force can be traced back to Aristotle, the AMTA states that music therapists assess their patient’s emotional, physical, social, and cognitive states through their response to music. Then, they design individual or group sessions.

These sessions may involve only listening, or they may be more interactive. Activities like songwriting, lyric discussion, and music and imagery can pave the way for discussion. Music performance, improvision, and learning through music enhance communication, speech, memory, and other skills. Any music therapy can build trust and connection. Of course, ongoing evaluation is essential. Music therapists also participate in interdisciplinary treatment planning.

Understanding the Potential of Music Therapy for Dementia

Why does music therapy offer so much hope for dementia patients? There are multiple reasons.

For starters, exposure to music can prompt the brain to release a cocktail of feel-good chemicals in a dementia patient’s brain, including melatonin, serotonin, and prolactin. As The Alzheimer’s Family Center points out, the relaxing effect this creates can improve mood, facilitate cognition, and build trust. Other studies point to the fact that music connects deeply within the brain, reaching into parts of the mind that fire even when other forms of cognition have faltered. According to Practical Neurology, musical perception, musical emotion, and musical memory can outlast other forms of memory, so music therapy offers a unique chance for caregivers and loved ones to reach dementia patients.

How can music help dementia patients? One of the most striking issues that patients struggle with is agitation. Patients who become agitated may wander, become physically aggressive, or become verbally aggressive. Agitation is problematic because it is a safety issue for both the patient and caregivers. It can make finding placements difficult and can lead to increased use of pharmaceuticals to calm the patient. Music therapy offers a non-invasive, drug-free alternative that has the potential to not only calm the patient but also boost their mood and cognition.

Bringing Music to Your Loved One

What if a music therapist isn’t available? While these professionals may have the training to provide the greatest benefit, anyone can bring music to a loved one with dementia. Sharing music can help reduce your stress, anxiety, and agitation and help you and your loved one enjoy your time together. Mayo Clinic offers these tips for sharing music with a dementia patient:

  • Consider your loved one’s preferences when putting together playlists.
  • Match the music to the desired mood or activity. Choose upbeat music for fun times. Select soothing music for times when calm is important.
  • Beware of overstimulation. When playing music, be mindful of the volume. Turn off competing noises.
  • Sing along together.
  • Encourage movement like clapping, snapping, swaying, dancing, or tapping toes.
  • Pay attention to the response. Songs that get positive responses should be played frequently. Songs that earn a negative response should be cut from future playlists.

Music can be a useful tool to help dementia patients connect with the world around them. Similarly, memory care is a useful tool for families that want the comfort of knowing that their loved ones are receiving supportive and respectful care from people who understand the unique needs of seniors with dementia. At the Piper, we’re honored to provide just the right amount of care to the residents who call our community home. To discover how we do it, contact us today.

Are you looking for an assisted living, memory support, and physician-directed nursing care community in Kansas City? Check out The Piper. Our team of experienced and compassionate professionals ensures that residents feel secure and comfortable right away. At our warm and welcoming community, which is truly a “home within a home,” we foster social interaction, engagement, and the right amount of care. Our residents always come first. To learn more about our services or to schedule a tour, please give us a call at 913-361-5136 or contact us online.