How Does Music Help Alzheimer’s Patients?


Posted by Kia Crawford on January 13th, 2015 in Memory Care, Mind | No Comments

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease that affects roughly 6 million people in the United States alone. While not everyone will develop Alzheimer’s disease as they grow older, it is one of the most common illnesses relating to old age. It’s a disease of the brain which starts in the frontal lobe, in the area where information is first processed before it becomes memories. Thus, Alzheimer’s affects memory, sense of place and time, and even mood and personality. shutterstock_133906250

Alzheimer’s is incurable, but that doesn’t mean there are no treatments for it. Memory care, a good environment and a variety of therapies can help substantially in slowing Alzheimer’s progress and improving quality of life for those who have it. Perhaps the most widespread and one of the most effective therapies for Alzheimer’s is music therapy.

Many people have heard of music therapy and yet many don’t understand why it works. Music therapy is effective on at least two levels: by helping dementia patients connect with memories, and by reducing agitation and confusion.

Memory: Music is connected with memories in the human brain on a deep level. Research indicates that “musical memory” is a completely different type of memory from verbal or visual memory. In other words, we store memories tied to music in a different way than we store other types of past memories. That means that often even when Alzheimer’s has eroded memory overall, music can still be used to unlock memories and recall them. This can happen in a very explicit way, like when playing a popular 1960’s song helps a senior remember their prom, or in a very indirect way, such as when a type of music helps them suddenly remember how to do something they had previously forgotten. Both kinds are used in music therapy.

Stress and Frustration: Having Alzheimer’s can be very confusing and frustrating. That’s because Alzheimer’s-related dementia affects how a person perceives sounds and words. It can be hard for them to distinguish spoke words from background noise and any background noise at all can make them very agitated. But music can overcome this: the brain recognizes music differently, and music can eliminate the disruptive effects of background noise and help a dementia patient feel more relaxed and composed.

At Dogwood Forest we believe that music therapy should be a basic part of any memory care environment. All of our memory care staff are trained to use music therapy. In a group setting music can also be a social hub, connecting residents not only to their own past but to staff, families and each other.

To learn more about what makes a good memory care community stand out, download our free guide “How To Choose the Right Memory Care Provider” today.

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