Caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia may notice the surprising changes that occur in their patients when they hear a favorite song or something from their past. Even very late into the disease, music has an incredible power to soothe, delight, and bring back happy memories of the past. Researchers say this is because there is no cognitive thinking involved. Music therapy can be utilized at all stages of the disease as a way of connecting with patients, but also for getting them more involved and active. The documentary Alive Inside highlights this phenomenon by focusing on seven specific patients and how music therapy has affected them.
Music and Memory
If the person suffering from the disease is a relative or close friend it will be easier to know which songs were a favorite in the past and will bring back happy memories. However, if a person’s musical preferences are unknown experiment with different types of music. A good place to start would be music that was popular during that person’s early adult years, but pay careful attention to how he or she reacts as music is a personal experience that one can have related to bad or good memories.
Keep a playlist of personal favorites, and use that music not only for personal enjoyment but as a motivator. Music and Memory is a nonprofit that brings iPods with customized playlists to nursing home residents who suffer from dementia. Typically they get family and friends of the patient to help create the playlist, and have seen incredible results in how the music calms patients while it also gets them more engaged.
Some patients progressing into the late stages of these diseases get agitated easily, and this can be diffused by music. Engage individuals in singing simple songs from their childhood and incorporate easy to follow dance movements such as swaying and arm motions. Caregivers have noted that dementia patients who listen to their favorite music often become more social and have less need for mood enhancing medications. With so many positive outcomes simply from listening to music it is a must try.
How Music helps
Music is available on a variety of mediums now and is no longer limited to a person’s CD collection or listening on a single device. Smart phones offer an incredible range of options in choosing music. Not only can phones store personal playlists which an easily be accessed, but they offer great options for exploring what types of music a person will respond to. Pandora is a free online radio service with apps for Nook, Blackberry, Android, iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Kindle. Users can search genres, artists, or composers to find stations that play only that type of music. It is a great resource for finding very specific favorites, and can be used when trying to search out what music most appeals to an individual.
A small monthly fee keeps the radio free from ads, which may be worthwhile if this will be the primary way patients will be listening to music. For iOS, Android, and Windows last.fm is an app similar to Pandora that allows a bit more user freedom as one can skip through as many songs as they like and it recommends songs based on personal preferences.
Slacker Internet Radio is another similar app but it lets users pick music based on years, which would be really helpful for finding music for dementia patients. It is available for iOS, Android, Blackberry, and Windows. Musical therapy also taps into using calming music to get a person to transition into bedtime routines and other calm, non-stimulated activities. There are apps such as Sleep Stream 2 and Healing Music Therapy for iOS which have soothing sounds and calming melodies to relax people.
A little exploring proves that there are an incredible amount of resources out there to put musical therapy to work for dementia patients. It is an amazing thing that this art form continues to be effective even at the end stages of such a destructive disease.