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Music as Therapy for those with Alzheimer's and other Dementias

Do you have a favorite song? Your favorite musical instrument? Your favorite style of singing? I do. And I guarantee you that it will be exactly the same when I am 90 years old.

There is a new type of Dementia Therapy that has been recently discovered that has shown tremendous improvement in the memory, speech and problem solving capabilities of our loved ones who are afflicted with Dementia. As the Disease progresses not only do our loved ones suffer memory loss, they unfortunately no longer have the same physical capabilities as they once used to. Dementia slowly effects every single part of the brain, not just memory. The good news is that one of the very last areas of the brain to be effected with Dementia is the area in which our music memories are kept.

It was previously believed that the memory of music was stored in the hippocampus where much of our long term memories are stored. However, scientist from the University of Berlin discovered in 2012 that our memories of music are not stored within the hippocampus but rather independent of the hippocampus in a location called the “auditory cortex”. And this area is one of the last to be effected by the disease of Dementia. It is because of this that our loved ones with Dementia have the ability to sing along to songs they have not heard for over 50 years, as if they only just heard them yesterday. They are able to remember words, musical rhythms, dance moves and even what they were doing at that time in their lives when the music was being played. In addition to the memories of music, the patients studied had a significant increase in energy, communication, decision making and comprehension after their music therapy session, compared to before the session.

One such patient in the study had barely spoken in close to 12 months. She was unable to move her body herself due to the stiffness and pain in her joints. She lived her life in a bed. The scientists placed headphones on her ears, played songs from her younger days and sat back and watched. After 2 short minutes she was making noises which appeared to be related to the music being played. She was moving her body rhythmically as if dancing to these songs, and when the scientists attempted to remove her headphones she was able to lift her arms to hold the headphones in place speaking a very loud “no”. What continued to happen was remarkable. When it came time for her 4 hourly pain medication, the pain scale used by the Nursing staff showed her to be in no pain whatsoever. Even with the increased movement of her body while she danced she had no grimacing of her face, no yelling in pain, and no hunching of her body. The nursing staff were able to prolong the administration of the pain medication Morphine Sulphate for an additional 2 hours. It was this patient as well as many others that gave the scientists the evidence they needed to continue with their ongoing studies on the benefits of music therapy in people with Dementia.

The goal of Music Therapy for sufferers of Dementia is to provide a different avenue for communication that will eventually assist those who are finding it difficult to communicate due to the disease. Music Therapy can be used alone in a personal setting, the person can listen to their favorite songs or instruments, or it can be incorporated into other Activities of Daily Living such as meal times or personal care.

With the new technological advances, knowledge of the workings of the brain, and new studies being conducted every year it is the hope that every person suffering from Dementia may have the ability to listen to music on a daily basis, which will assist them in their ability to recall as many aspects of their life as possible.

So before you put away your old records in boxes, before you delete that old song, PLAY IT!! Play it loud. Dance. Sing. And REMEMBER!!

Kylie is All Season’s Activity Director. She is constantly looking for and implementing new ways to serve our residents suffering from Alzheimer’s and other Dementias.