Current research shows that listening to their favorite music can help provide emotional and behavioral benefits for people with Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia. This is because the key brain areas linked to musical memory remain undamaged despite disease progression and musical memories are then preserved.
A total of 11 U.S. states have already integrated a music program for people with dementia into public policy. Louise Weadock, President of ACCESS Nursing Services, has been researching the beneficial effects of sensory stimulation for people with dementia 25 years, as well as music’s effects on post-surgical delirium.
She has used her findings to pioneer a successful program that fuses sensory stimulation with music therapy for people with dementia.
“We are transferring the science we know from the Autism community and applying it to the Alzheimer’s community,” says Weadock. “The strategy is to use all the things that make the patient happy and evoke their happiest memories.”
In the ACCESS Nursing Services “Music & Dementia” program, an initial Sensory Assessment is conducted so that the Occupational Therapist can create a Neuro-Sensory Strategic Plan. Then, a Sensory Trainer is assigned to each patient and first creates a connection with the patient to foster trust, then develops an individualized plan that best optimizes the patient’s mood, memory and overall ability to “stay in the game.” The Trainer will work with the patient 4-8 hours/day, 5 days a week, During each session, the Trainer will flow through a variety of indoor and outdoor Sensory & Fitness Activities that continuously challenge the senses. The program is reimbursable by most Long-term care insurance.
Alzheimers.net offers these five reasons why researchers believe that music boosts brain activity:
- Music evokes emotions that bring memories.
Music can evoke emotion in even the most advanced of Alzheimer’s patients. Neurologist Oliver Sacks says that, “Music evokes emotion, and emotion can bring with it memory… it brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” By pairing music with every day activities, patients can develop a rhythm that helps them to the recall the memory of that activity, improving cognitive ability over time.
- Musical aptitude and appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in dementia patients.
Researcher/author Linda Maguire, wrote, “Musical aptitude and music appreciation are two of the last remaining abilities in patients with Alzheimer’s.” Because these two abilities remain long after other abilities have passed, music is an excellent way to reach beyond the disease and reach the person.
- Music can bring emotional and physical closeness.
In the later stages of dementia, patients often lose the ability to share emotions with caregivers. Through music, as long as they are ambulatory, they can often dance. Dancing can lead to hugs, kisses and touching which brings security and memories.
- Singing is engaging.
The singing sessions in the study engaged more than just the brain and the area related to singing. As singing activated the left side of the brain, listening to music sparked activity in the right and watching the class activated visual areas of the brain. With so much of the brain being stimulated , the patients were exercising more mind power than usual.
- Music can shift mood, manage stress and stimulate positive interactions.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America has an entire web page dedicated to music therapy in Alzheimer’s patients. They say that, “When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function and coordinate motor movements.” This is because music requires little to no mental processing, so singing music does not require the cognitive function that is not present in most dementia patients.
In addition to helping with memory loss, music has been proven to relieve stress and agitation, as well as reduce depression and anxiety.