Few would deny the power of music and the effect it can have on emotional and mental well-being — even physical health. Studies have shown that music can not only boost mood and reduce stress but listening to certain kinds of music may also improve mental function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Though these conditions can affect virtually any area of a person’s ability to function, there is one place that they cannot seem to touch — the place where musical memories are stored. And while scientists aren’t entirely sure why this section of the brain is immune to their deleterious effects, we as caretakers can be grateful for this anomaly and use it to help our patient or loved one in surprising and miraculous ways.
Music therapy can:
- help preserve mental function
- soothe a patient experiencing overstimulation
- improve mood and reduce stress
- facilitate conversational skills
- assist a patient or loved one in accessing memories
- increase the capacity to learn
- reduce the need for hormone replacement therapy and other medications
- temporarily improve motor function and coordination
- help improve sleep length and quality
In addition to these powerful benefits, music therapy is usually enjoyable and can provide your patient or loved one with hours of fun and entertainment. So let’s get started!
Minimize distractions to avoid overstimulation
Before you utilize music therapy, be sure to begin with silence. Competing noises, such as a television set or a beeping microwave, could cause your patient or loved one to become overstimulated, leading to unnecessary stress or aggressive behavior. Be sure to also put your cellphone in silent mode so there will be no unexpected distractions.
Play soothing music to reduce agitation and improve mood and sleep quality
It is common for those with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to have periods of increased agitation, characterized by irritability, shouting, or even violent behavior. Calm, soothing music, particularly coupled with imagery such as natural scenes, can help bring the agitation back down to a manageable level. Music that would work well for this result would be serene piano selections, New Age music, or natural sounds like rain or ocean waves. Utilizing peaceful music near bedtime may also allow your patient or loved one to have a better night’s sleep.
Play popular tunes from childhood and early adulthood years to access memory and help preserve cognitive function
It seems almost nothing brings a smile to an older person’s face quite like a song from their younger years. While they are listening to the song, it is as though time has no power to touch them. And for a few brief moments, they may be able to make cognitive connections and relive happy memories from high school dances, college years, or courtship with their then-future spouses. Don’t be surprised if your loved one or patient begins to sing along, remembering the lyrics verbatim.
Besides regaining access to memories, these cognitive connections can actually help preserve brain function and help to slow the process of mental deterioration by exercising regions of the brain that have not yet been claimed by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. And your patient or loved one can be transported back to simpler and happier times, distracting them from the stresses of the current world and COVID-19 — an escape we all need once in a while.
Get out the karaoke machine
Singing along to familiar tunes may have the added benefit of verbal response and improving conversational skills. And your patient or loved one will have lots of fun doing it! Offer a variety of songs they might know and let them pick their favorites.
Help your patient or loved one get moving
Some studies have shown that those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia who have not fully lost motor function are often able to temporarily regain some coordination when they listen to music. Encourage your patient or loved one to move along to the music, by using hand motions, walking, or dancing. Be sure to stay close to them in the event they begin to lose their balance. An alternative is rhythmic activities to the music, such as clapping or using a tambourine or rattle. Upbeat, fun songs from their prime work well for this purpose.
Encourage your loved one or patient to share their memories
Listening to music will likely bring up some emotional memories for your patient or loved one. Be a supportive listener and show them that you are interested in hearing what they have to say. You might be surprised by the stories you’ll hear — a heroic rescue in a natural disaster, or a passionate tale of lovers separated by war and reunited, years later. With permission, you may even wish to record their stories so these memories can be treasured after they pass away. Most of all, being able to relive these special memories and communicate them with others will improve the quality of life of your patient or loved one and make them feel appreciated.
Learn more about the power of music therapy
Want to learn more about how music therapy can benefit your patient or loved one? Give us a call at (207) 699-2570 or send us an email at [email protected] Advantage Home Care provides quality, specialized care tailored to meet your needs —and you’ll have peace of mind knowing your p patient or loved one is in good hands.
For more articles on how to help your Alzheimer’s and/or dementia patient we hope you’ll check out our other Alzheimer’s and dementia-related blog posts.