For most people music is not only enjoyable, it’s therapeutic. Music has the power to evoke all kinds of emotions, reduce stress, motivate us to exercise and help us fall asleep at night.
For individuals with Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementia, music is a compelling way to spark positive outcomes at any stage in the disease. Music can shift moods, help manage agitation, spark affirmative interaction and stimulate cognitive function and motor movement. This all happens because of rhythm. Rhythmic responses require little or no mental processing. They just materialize as the brain responds to auditory cues. A person can engage in music – singing, tapping feet, drumming, humming, swaying – through the latest stages of the disease because these activities are not mandated by cognitive function.
People associate music with important events in their lives, events that evoke a variety of emotions, both positive and negative. A melody that calms one person may be something another person associates with the tragic loss of a loved one. Caregivers must understand that if a music selection appears to evoke agitation, facial strain or muscle tension, they can simply switch to something else.
Alicia Ann Clair, Ph.D., MT-BC, professor and director of the Division of Music Education and Music at the University of Kansas suggests that selections from the individual’s young adult years – ages 18-25 – are most likely to have the strongest responses and the most potential for engagement. Unfamiliar music can also be beneficial because it carries no memories or emotions. This may be the best choice when developing new responses, such as physical relaxation designed to manage stress or enhance sleep.
Music is a powerful tool in Alzheimer’s and dementia care. If you have any doubts, please take a look at this ABC News report and let us know what you think!