Music is therapy for everyone, not just people who have Alzheimer’s disease. I think that each of us has experienced, if not euphoria, at least a certain reverie while listening to an especially enjoyable piece of music. Whether your tastes are for the classics, jazz, or rock-and-roll; or if you prefer listening to soul, country music, show tunes, or whatever; you will admit that music has the power to move you. This emotional attachment that we, as human beings, have for music, is the basis for music therapy, the reason it works so well. It is why we are so passionate about music therapy for Alzheimer’s and all other forms of dementia.
The power of music to soothe the heart and to positively affect the mind and the soul was known in antiquity. Dr. Case Adams, board certified alternative medical practitioner, wrote in a May 6, 2010 article for Yahoo Voices: Old favorites and favorite artists are the way to go when selecting music for reminiscence.
Music therapy can also be a tool for reminiscence therapy. Perhaps more accurately, music therapy and reminiscence therapy will augment each other like no other pair of tools can. You saw (in the video above) how Henry lit up when remembering the influence music had on his younger self; when remembering details of that influence, like his favorite musician and song. There is not a consensus among researchers that music has positive effects on the behavior, memory, or cognition of persons who have dementia including Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand, there is certainly enough evidence, both clinical and anecdotal, to warrant further investigation. And since the most severe side-effects of music therapy are things like toe-tapping, singing, swaying, and maybe even dancing, we heartily recommend that music be included in an overall treatment plan for anyone who has dementia. Don’t wait for the research to catch up with what is so obviously beneficial.
Much of what we know of how music benefits people with dementia involves emotional and behavioral affects.
Like art therapy, music therapy for Alzheimer’s is a discipline that requires training and musical proficiency. Music therapists are degreed and certified. Music therapy involves more than just listening to music.
Research: Music Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease
There is not a consensus among researchers that music has positive effects on the behavior, memory, or cognition of persons who have dementia. On the other hand, there is certainly enough evidence, both clinical and anecdotal, to warrant further investigation. And since the most severe side-effects of music therapy are things like toe-tapping, singing, swaying, and maybe even dancing, we heartily reccommend that music be included in an overall treatment plan for anyone who has dementia. Don’t wait for the research to catch up with what is so obviously beneficial. Provide music therapy for Alzheimer’s disease at every opportunity.
Make music part of an overall treatment plan for people who have dementia.
Like so many alternative therapies for dementia, music therapy has gotten a lot of recent attention. A 2000 study (J Music Ther. 2000 Fall;37(3):170-82) reported reminiscence music to be effective against depression: ” Results indicated that participation in small group reminiscence focused music therapy groups might help to reduce depressive symptoms in elderly people with dementia.” Another group reported (International Psychogeriatrics: page 1 of 9 C 2006 International Psychogeriatric Association, doi:10.1017), “Music therapy is a safe and effective method for treating agitation
and anxiety in moderately severe and severe AD.”
Reminiscence music is different for everyone. Music by The Beatles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Moody Blues and other groups of that era cause all sorts of memories to flood into my head. But sometimes so does a song by Frank Sinatra, or even Doris Day can do the trick. I can remember specifically once sitting at the kitchen table while my mom was washing the dishes, listening to Doris Day sing Que Sera, Sera. I couldn’t have been more than six years old.
If your not sure what music will be best for reminiscence for a certain individual, play music that was popular when that person was younger, anywhere from his childhood until his middle twenties is a good place to start. If the music brings a smile to his face it will likely do the trick. If he smiles and starts singing, make darned sure you keep that song.
Structured music therapy sessions are beneficial, but music can also be helpful when used in a less formal way. A report in the Journal of Music Therapy (Winter 2007) found twenty-eight people with Alzheimer’s, “show clear increase in positive behaviors, such as conversation, smiling, or moving to the rhythm, and a reduction in negative behavior such as wandering, fidgeting and showing aggression towards others,” when music was played in the background.
A study (International Psychogeriatrics: 2006 International Psychogeriatric Association doi:10.1017) concluded that music therapy reduces “activity disturbances” in people with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease. The authors of this study conclude that, “activity disturbances and anxiety can be affected by the patient’s participation in music therapy.” One observation of the authors of this latter study that I find particularly intriguing is that, “active participation in music sessions could give some meaning to the lives of patients who have lost the ability to create meaningful activity. Their desire for activity would subsequently be met and symptoms of meaningless activities lessened.” This supports our contention that providing meaningful, age-and stage-appropriate activity is one of the most important things you, as a carer, can do for you care partner.
Incorporating music into the daily care regimens of individuals with dementia may indeed be a valuable strategy and cost effective therapeutic intervention to reduce the overall incidence of agitated behavior and decrease the need for restraints.
Music and Memory: Then there is a 2010 study published in Neuropshchologia that concluded that, “patients with AD (Alzheimer’s disease) performed better on a task of recognition memory for the lyrics of songs when those lyrics were accompanied at encoding by a sung recording than when they were accompanied by a spoken recording. These results suggest a fundamental difference in the encoding and retrieval processes for musical versus non-musical stimuli between patients with AD and healthy older adults.” This suggests to me that we may be able to use the brains plasticity to re-teach certain basic skills that have been lost to dementia.