Can you imagine looking out at the world around you and not seeing one familiar thing? Are the people around you family, friends, or nursing staff? Is the building you are in your adult home, or an assisted living care facility? Where are your parents and siblings?
But then you hear the opening strains to a song from your early adult years. Suddenly you recall all the lyrics, just as if you were propelled back in time and listening to it with your friends during your younger years. Even more surprising, you begin singing along in perfect sync with the music.
iMusic Therapy for the Elderly
While it might sound far fetched, this kind of thing happens with elderly music therapy patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s every day. Therapy takes place in a variety of different ways, from singing, dancing, and playing instruments to listening to an iPod.
However any kind of personal digital music player is helpful during music therapy sessions with Alzheimer’s patients. Even patients with degenerative gross or fine motor skills who are unable to do much else can use a digital music device.
One of the ways that patients can use the devices is to play virtual instruments. For instance if an individual lacks the fine or gross motor skills to hold an actual instrument and play it, they can tap an iPad screen or swipe their finger across it to “play” a simulated version.
The Piano and Alzheimer’s Patients
A popular instrument is the virtual piano. Tapping the keys on the iPad screen is reminiscent of actual piano keys, even without formal lessons. Because the piano is so popular with people of all ages, it is a natural choice.
Elderly patients with early onset dementia could go further and learn piano by chords via a type of virtual instrument on any digital device. Here are some benefits of using digital devices in music therapy as well as music therapy overall:
- Improved Memory – Practicing piano requires repetition. Mastering small lessons and moving up to bigger challenges not only helps improve memory, but it also boosts self-confidence and improves overall mood.
- Hand-Eye Coordination – Those with poor fine or gross motor skills can practice hand-eye coordination by tapping or swiping their finger on the iPad screen to play a virtual instrument, like a piano, or by pressing buttons on an iPod to make music selections.
- Relieve Depression & Anxiety – Listening to music is relaxing. Because memory loss associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s cause anxiety issues, using music to trigger positive memories can actually reduce some of the depression and anxiety that patients experience.
- Decrease Restlessness – When Alzheimer’s patients feel depressed and anxious, they tend to wander. However using music therapy, such as the digital methods described earlier, can decrease restlessness, improve nightly sleep quality, and enhance the patient’s mood.
- Increased Interaction – Alzheimer’s patients who take music therapy are more likely to interact with others, including their fellow nursing home patients, family members, or health caregivers following a session. They are also more likely to interact during music therapy than they are other types of therapy.
Designing the Perfect Playlist
Selecting the perfect playlist is imperative in music therapy. A song that might make one patient clap and sing might make another one experience angst that causes them to lash out verbally or physically.
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (www.alzfdn.org) states that the highest chance of success for high-functioning patients with Alzheimer’s comes when music selections are from a patient’s young adult years, from about age 18 until the mid-20s or so.
That is because during the early stages of dementia it is easier for the human brain to recapture memories of the past. Assembling a list of a patient’s favorite songs from their past during this time can be a treasure later when they lose the ability to share this information.
How Does It All Work?
Tania Papayannopoulou, a music therapist interviewed by CBS’s The Early Show, related that one particular patient who is otherwise unreactive begins to sing whenever she hears a song from her past. Pathways in her brain are just stimulated by this music.
While different professionals have different theories, Papayannopoulou explains, “She feels it. It touches her heart. And she does not forget the words.” Should I ever spend my golden years in a nursing home, may I be lucky enough to benefit from music therapy.
Freelance author Mark Harris has loved music for all of his life. Whether listening to his iPod while working in his home office or enjoying the music piped into his favorite local coffee house, it’s a necessary tool for his work as a freelance writer and internet marketer! When Mark isn’t working you can find him playing tourist in his own city with his lovely wife as they take in sights around Vancouver, BC.