Music “speaks” to patients with dementia

June 29, 2022
Music “speaks” to patients with dementia

Dementia is a degenerative condition that is hard to escape from as we age. Different therapy-based interventions have been developed to help people with dementia including talking therapy and pet therapy alongside cognitive stimulation methods – these continue to be improved on to help more people improve their quality of life as the illness progresses. Recently, music therapy has received much attention: it has been shown to help dementia patients “connect” with their memories in a way that language cannot.

The story of former music teacher and pianist Paul Harvey demonstrates music therapy’s powerful effects. Despite a dementia diagnosis, Paul composed a beautiful classical piece comprising just four notes during the lockdown of 2020. Paul would eventually conduct the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to play his piece, titled Four Notes – his story and the moving beauty of the piece attracted attention from around the world.

Paul’s story is a brilliant example of how musical ability can outlast other memories when dementia sets in, indicating the potential power of music therapy.

Music therapy employs the use of sound and music to stimulate parts of the brain that language is unable to reach. Music therapy can take lots of different forms; it’s not always just about listening to music, but about interacting with it and interpreting it too. In some cases, music therapy may even encourage physical exercise through dance.

Sometimes, when communication is affected by dementia, music can act as an alternative way to communicate, as some people living with dementia are better able to connect with music than words as a means of expression.

The right music choice may influence the mood of person living with dementia, and potentially stir up pleasant old memories. It can help to create a point of connection for older people who are living together in a care home environment, which may help to reduce the feelings of social isolation that dementia patients can experience.

Some examples of music therapy activities for dementia patients practised in several care homes include:

. Listening to a music radio station that plays songs from a decade that holds happy memories for the patient, and asking them questions about how the songs made them feel, or whether they remember when they last heard them

. Creating a playlist based on the songs the patient responds the most positively to, and playing this regularly, or when they need to calm down or be cheered up

. Encouraging them to sing along or even play a percussion instrument, such as a tambourine, along with the music

. Watching a favourite musical together on TV or even going to see a live show

. Playing or singing nursery rhymes or songs from the patient’s childhood, to encourage them to connect with old memories and talk about their younger years

. Encourage the patient’s loved ones to join in with music therapy sessions to allow them to create new memories together

While music therapy may be incorporated into a person’s dementia care plan, it’s important to choose music that they’re most likely to connect with. However, you should always be prepared to turn the music off if the person with dementia begins to show any signs of agitation or distress.

[Note: The above was adapted from the New Care Homes UK website, which specialises in dementia care.]

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Category: Education, Features

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