For millions of Americans and their caregivers, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia present a moment to moment challenge. The ability to remember the ordinary and to do the everyday task gets increasingly lost. Beyond that, the very personality of the afflicted deteriorates.
The National Institute on Aging maintains there is hope for the memory-impaired, on a variety of fronts, including the area of music therapy. I have experienced this personally with my 95-year-old father who has moderate dementia. Playing the piano and singing the good old songs make him more like himself and just help him be happy. What follows are the basics regarding dementia and music and why singing and instrumental tunes are such a blessing for the changing brain.
The Physiology of Music and Dementia
Without getting too technical, memory-impaired people have big gaps in what they can recall and do. Simple skills disappear (e,g, zipping a coat), and familiar words are unreachable or renamed (a banana becomes a yellow thing). What happened an hour ago is forgotten, but what happened junior year in high school is well recalled. Personality, interest in life and emotions change, too, from childlike to aggressive to flat lined.
Research now shows that music coming through the auditory complex in the brain is well connected with the limbic system where emotions originate. The music is unaffected by the deficient parts of the brain and stimulates what still works–the older memories, for example. So, by playing or listening to music, dementia patients are better able to:
-be more like their old selves
-do with less medication
Dementia and Alzheimer’s can leave the person and his caregiver feeling isolated. Yet, according to the National Institute on Aging, caregivers see music turn isolation into:
-less physical pain
-better physical rehab
The rhythm of music helps coordination. Walking to music steadies the wobbly, unbalanced gait.
Making Music Part of the Every Day
Therapists with the American Music Therapy Association suggest these methods of incorporating music into the daily lives of dementia patients–whatever level they may be in:
1. Get headphones. These work for all individuals–even those with hearing aids.
2. Learn to digitally download music for your loved one. This keeps favorite songs portable and handy.
3. Play what the individual really likes. Anything else may do nothing for the person, or worse, aggravate him.
4. Monitor the volume as those with hearing deficits have problems with music that is too soft and also, too loud.
Music presents re-connection, improved quality of life and hope for the memory-challenged and those closest to them. It’s a simple therapy with great results.