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Music Therapy for Dementia is Real and Studies Show it Can Work Wonders

Updated: Aug 2, 2022

Written By: MKR Senior Health Strategist

We humans have so many beautiful forms of communication. Language, both written and spoken, can create so many emotions. These feelings can touch us deep within, and they can invoke emotions that we didn’t know we had. The only major divide is the wall of different spoken languages. Lucky for us, there is a universal language, and that universal language is what brought around the idea of music therapy for dementia.

Music has been studied and played since the dawn of time, and it can be found anywhere if you look hard enough. Music is this amazing trigger that causes your brainwaves to exhibit amazing activity when listening or playing. Think about it, when you like a song, you either tap your toe, sing along, or dance like a maniac, right? Of course! We all have our jams, so wouldn’t it only make sense to use the sensation of music as a therapy?

Well, that’s exactly what we are here to discuss today. We are going to look at the use of music therapy for dementia, and how music boosts brain activity.

What is Music Therapy for Dementia?

Let’s start at the beginning, yes there is really musical therapy for dementia, and yes, it really does work. Music is one of those topics that has study after study that shows music makes you more intelligent, especially when you play it. The idea of music therapy doesn’t seem so far fetched when you think about the cognitive and physical requirements of playing an instrument, and the mental fortitude of reading music or playing along with someone.

As a practice, the idea of listening to music therapy has shown amazing results for Dementia patients, and other afflictions like a coma or shock. Music therapy uses a mixture of different music types to help your loved one focus on the music and identifying their favorites. Whether they are listening or playing, the music can help trigger memories, calm them in a fit of rage, and even help them fight the progression of Alzheimer’s. In terms of hobbies for the elderly, music is really towards the top of the list.

Most therapy focuses on maintaining the health of the patient’s brain and fight the dementia disease. Though communication, games, and other various activities, dementia therapy aims to keep the person’s mind active. The more activity that can be preserved, the better the chances of fighting off the progression of the disease longer. Music therapy for dementia takes this to an entirely different level.

Since music has shown time and again that it directly affects brain wave activity, it only makes sense to look to music to fight dementia. Since playing, and even listening to, music is so brain intensive, it’s a great tool for fighting the progression of dementia.

How Does Music Help Dementia Patients?

Music therapy can help dementia patients stay on top of their game physically and mentally. Even if your loved one is confined to a chair, or physically disabled, there are ways to help your loved one play and listen to music.

Music is one of those unique activities that utilizes both the left and right sides of the brain. For those who don’t know, the left side of your brain is responsible for tasks like math, logic, and numbers, while the right side leans more towards art, creativity, and musical awareness. Playing music is a great exercise for both parts of the brain.

Sheet music is broken down mathematically. Different note lengths dictate the way the music uses the beats of each measure. The combination of the measures create the music you play, hear, and enjoy. Playing music exercises your mind, dexterity, hand-eye coordination, memory, cognitive flexibility, and auditory skills.

Early Stages of Dementia and Music Therapy

Many music therapy sessions can happen right under your own roof, and it’s a great activity for your loved one in the early stages of dementia. Playing music is a great exercise for your loved one physically, mentally, and emotionally. There is so much expression that your loved one can make with their music, and could help your relationship with your aging loved one grow even stronger if you play with them. Make it a fun time with your loved one, record a record, have a daily jam session, or even write a symphony together. Any of those activities is sure to keep your loved one’s brain active and healthy.

If you are just listening to music, you should talk to your loved one about their music taste. Trying putting a list together of their favorite music and genres. This might come in handy down the line, as music therapy tends to shift more towards listening as the disease progresses. Having their preferences will help your make playlists, and those could trigger lost memories if they strike the right chord!

Middle Stages of Dementia and Music Therapy

During the middle stages of dementia, playing music can still happen just like it did before, but there might be a few more breaks involved. As dementia starts to advance, it can get harder for your loved one to play the way they used to. If they loved to read music, you might notice a bit of a struggle from time to time. You could also start to see bouts of disinterest from your loved one as dementia progresses. If they start to get frustrated reading sheet music, ask them if they feel like just playing. If not, either move on to the next activity, or transition into simply listening.

When you move to listening to music, you might want to try pulling out those playlists. Music that triggers memories helps them stay sharp and fight back against the disease.

This might also be a good time to introduce genres like classical music and ambient frequency music. That last part might sound weird, but there are songs designed for dementia patients. Memory music hits specific frequencies that trigger brain waves that help you exercise parts of their brain that aren’t normally used. Different frequencies can produce chemicals in your brain as well that help you feel good. Music can reduce anxiety, lower your blood pressure, relieve pain. Even more so, music can improve your memory, mental awareness, mood, and sleep.

Late Stages of Dementia and Music Therapy

Listening is a huge part of incorporating music into the care for late stage dementia. You really want a solid mix of soothing toons and personal classics to help your loved one awake their memories.

You can really turn music into a variety of helpful activities as well. Turn music into a counting exercise, so your loved one can count along to the music. Remember to count with them, you don’t want to feel awkward about it.

Humming or whistling along to a tune can be a great way to help your loved one in the later stages of dementia. They might even start to hum or sing with you. If they don’t, encourage to join into their favorite tunes.

If your loved one is still mobile, you could even ask them to dance. Yes, dancing to their favorite tunes is a great way to get your loved one up and moving. Activity is key when trying to prevent dementia progression.

Does This Only Work for Dementia Patients?

Of course not! Music is a wonderful brain stimulus for people of every age. Research has shown that playing music at all ages helps the brain grow it ways it normally wouldn’t. Researchers at Heidelberg University in Germany discovered that people who play music have more sensitive brains. This sensitivity is built from more connections in the brain being used. In some ways, playing music “unlocks” the brain.

Playing music from a young age is a great way to help any grow and feel more. From birth to death, music can make a positive impact on your life, especially if you play it.

Incorporating Music & Dementia Care

Incorporating music into dementia care is really an easy task. Many homes have an instrument or two laying around in the lobby or elsewhere. If they don’t, you can always run to a music store or pawn shop to pick up a cheap used instrument or two. Even a simple drum is a great way to delight a patient suffering from dementia. It can help them find the beat, and drum along to the turn with everyone.

If your loved one is immobile, ask the local school choirs for assistance. Whether it be a quick visit from the carolers on the holidays or a dedicated show at the local nursing community, there are tons of music acts that will jump at the chance to be heard and make a smiling face or two.

Some assisted living facilities might not set these events up on their own, so reach out to your loved one’s facility to find out. They should be able to share a schedule with you for planned events and special visits on the calendar. If they don’t have music events planned for the residents, talk to them about starting one or reaching out to the musicians mentioned before.

Music for Memory

Music is a great way to help your loved one with retaining their memory. Playing tunes that are close to home on the stereo or piano is an awesome to practice memory and keep tabs on your loved one’s progress.

A simple, “how did that song go?” can clue you in on your loved one’s mental state. Try to have a go-to song that helps you determine where you loved one sits. Having a few to sing along to helps even more. As long as they remember those songs, you’re making progress.

There is even music that is specifically designed to help boost memory. It does this by playing tones at frequencies that are shown to boost brain wave activity. These tunes can help your loved one if you mix them in with those hits.

Playing music is especially good for muscle memory for the body. It also helps the brain remember those neurons are available for use. Dementia causes the brain to “forget” everything by disrupting communication between the receptors. How fast the brain forgets is up to the specific case at hand. Helping your loved one trigger as many neurons in the brain as possible is one of the best ways to keep their memory sharp and fight back against the disease.

Music Is All Inclusive Therapy for Dementia Patients

Along with age, anyone can participate or enjoy music. It’s not limited to those who can play it. The benefits of listening to music, especially structured music like classical and ambient therapy music, awaken the brain.

There are even ways to help your loved one play music if they can’t move or speak. Though these items are in development phases, the ability to play music with the blink of an eye or a thought in the brain is making music accessible to everyone. The power and joy that music can bring is simply mind-blowing, and it can really brighten anyone’s day.

This hot button topic has even lead to some care facilities making it a part of the normal plan. There are even larger music therapy conventions to show the ability of music to fight dementia.

Related Articles for Interesting Medical Cases of Brain Music

Music’s brainwave power is always making a case for itself in the news too. From music helping memories return to waking up coma patients, music’s power over the brain has been shown, though there is still so much to understand about the relationship.

Here are a few articles that show music’s power over the brain:

“The ‘Darbari Kanada’ raag of Hindustani music (‘Kanada’ in Carnatic music) has been effectively used as a therapy by a Kolkata-based doctor to help a young girl come out of the coma.”

That’s right. The rendition of ‘Darbari Kanada’ by violinist N Rajam has gone viral as a little girl cure for a coma. Learn how listening to a song 3 times a day brought back a little girls brain activity in this article.

It’s not just us going crazy about music for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. It’s seriously everywhere. All of the major Alzheimer’s and dementia resources online have something to say about music therapy for Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“Music has been investigated before as a potential therapy for dementia patients. While it can’t reverse or stop the disease, scientists say that it can reduce agitation in patients and even boost mood in caregivers. And that’s enough for researchers to start implementing music as a daily routine.”

More and more studies are popping up about the potential for music’s “healing powers.” Though they aren’t going to cure dementia, more studies are popping up about its benefits for fighting the disease.

Learn more about the “Geriatrics & Gerontology International study of 51 individuals living with dementia who attended community-based adult day health centers, behavioral observations of a music intervention showed a positive change in mood and a decrease in agitation.”

Even major programs like Wick are looking into using music therapy for dementia to, “help enhance memories and abilities as well as strengthen relationships.”

This article introduced the newest Wick program that is being adopted called “The Playlist for Life.” With what we have talked about so far, it’s a fitting name.

With major programs like Wick starting to adopt music therapy as a certified method of care for dementia and Alzheimer’s, you can expect it to be under a watchful eye. If this methodology proves to be successful, you can expect other countries to adopt a similar practice at some point.

The wonderful members of Giving Voice Chorus is comprised of Alzheimer’s patients and their caretakers. This amazing group is helping its members cope with memory loss while raising awareness for the disease.

Check out their story and see how this group put together 9 choral pieces for their concert.

Putting Music Therapy to Use for Your Loved One

Music therapy for dementia is one of those practices anyone can take part in. It’s really easy to put together playlists of your loved one’s favorite tune, and there are countless ways to get involved in making music. From choirs devoted to raising awareness for dementia patients to the local choirs seeing for the assisted living community, there are so many ways to get music into a dementia patient’s daily activity.

Assisted living homes love to work with you to make accommodations for your loved one. With that being said, don’t hesitate to reach out to them for assistance. Work with your loved one’s community organizers to plan music events for the home. Especially if you aren’t familiar with the area, working with the home helps you make events that are possible, and stops you from planning beyond their means. It might also be a good idea to make sure that won’t affect the cost of assisted care for your loved one.

Look around your local community, too. Activities like the Giving Voices Chorus are all over the place, but you have to look for them. Many of these amazing groups go underfunded and understaffed, so finding them might be a challenge if you don’t know where to look.

If you are still lost, try contacting your local government about music programs for your loved one with dementia. They might know of a small group around town, or they might be able to help allocate funding to a program.

Raise Awareness for Music Therapy for Dementia

This is a newer topic, so don’t be shocked if someone hasn’t heard about using music as a therapy for dementia. This is a topic that needs to be discussed, and for many, they have to see it to believe it.

Connect people you know to this article if they don’t believe you, or show them the countless articles that back your claims. Remember, even though these special tones, personalized playlists, and favorite hits can help a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s not a cure.

Instead, look at music as healing through prevention. Learning new music to sing can bring a new life challenge to someone who keeps forgetting things. Playing new musical pieces on an instrument does much the same. The challenge of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to create music is extremely fulfilling. They have to learn each little bit of the music and dissect it so it’s easy to learn. Then they have to put all the pieces they have learned into sections of the music. Finally, they get to put those sections together and create a piece of music.

The best part of music as dementia therapy is there is no judgment. Music is already taught in this broken down manner, so it’s a possibility to any musically minded person to put on a healing music session for dementia patients.

If you are still having issues incorporating music into your loved one’s daily routine, feel free to reach out to MKR Senior Health Strategist. We can’t help with the exact issue, but we are more than happy to point you in the right direction if we can.

If you are looking for senior care placement services, feel free to reach out as well. We offer free senior care placement services, and help you find the right care for your loved one.

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