Dementia Patients Awaken Their Senses Through Music Therapy
It is estimated that four million Americans are currently suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or a related form of dementia. Almost half of all nursing home patients suffer from the disease. There, we often find dementia patients slumped over in wheelchairs, seemingly unresponsive. Communicating with older loved ones in later stages of dementia and finding ways to offer them some quality of life is an everyday challenge for families and doctors across the world. Researchers have recently discovered, however, that the power of music seems to awaken patients with dementia—inciting forgotten memories and solidifying a sense of self.
When used appropriately, music can act as an interpreter of a patient’s worldview, stimulating communication even in the late stages of dementia. Music can elevate the mood, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements. This is because rhythmic responses require little to no cognitive processing, so the ability to engage in music remains intact.
Music that has personal significance to someone can elicit strong emotional responses, which is significant for those who suffer from aggressive dementia. Researchers have found a powerful connection between the auditory cortex and limbic system in the brain, which is where emotions are processed. This link allows for sound to be processed immediately by areas of the brain associated with long-term memory and emotion.
Music has the power to trigger these long-term memories. When we listen to familiar music that triggers old memories and nostalgia for youth, it is a visceral feeling that we experience, one that is intuitive and innate. It’s a cross-cultural language that has been used for more than 30,000 years to express qualities of human experience.
Using music therapy to improve the overall physical and mental well-being of dementia patients is a great way to manage symptoms without the use of pharmaceuticals. Benefits include:
- Memory recall
- A sense of control over life
- Positive changes in mood
- Stimulation that promotes interest against other ineffective approaches
- Opportunities to interact socially with others
When so much research demonstrates the significant health and wellness benefits music and other arts activities can provide for dementia patients. Music therapy offers hope to family members who must witness the deterioration of their loved ones every day, allowing them to access the human being that’s trapped within the shell of this degenerative disease. Not only is music an enjoyable link to the past, it’s also a nourishing connection to the present.