AustinPUG Health

AustinPUG Health

Img music therapy Music Therapy And Alzheimers   Why It Is Different For Each PatientImagine an elderly Alzheimer’s patient who spends the majority of his day slumped across his wheelchair tray, unresponsive to the world around him. A music therapist slips a pair of headphones over his ears, and suddenly he comes to life!

His feet start moving, his arms rock back and forth, and his voice belts out the lyrics of his favorite songs in perfect harmony. Sound unbelievable? Well, it’s not! 92 year old dementia patient Henry Dryer is one of the seven patients featured in the documentary, Alive Inside.

Based around the topic of music in nursing homes, the documentary records how Dryer feels about the music. He states, “I feel a band of love, dreams. It gives me the feeling of love, romance!” I do not know a single person who could resist being moved by that statement.

The Power of Music Therapy

Overall, music is an activity that most people enjoy regardless of age, but it is especially true for the elderly. For example if someone is bedridden or stuck in a chair for several hours a day for dialysis, music helps pass the time while reconnecting them with their past.

Everyone has special songs or pieces of music that they associate with important things and special people who played an integral part in their lives. Some of those events might include:

  • The song that was playing on the radio the first time you drove a car by yourself.
  • A sentimental melody played at a wedding reception, or even the wedding march itself.
  • Any number of songs that families enjoy singing together, on road trips or vacations, for instance.
  • Songs popular during political or other life-changing times in the world.
  • Any music heard performed live, whether at an open mic, in a concert hall, or at a jamboree or festival.

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, “Most people associate music with important events and a wide array of emotions. The connection can be so strong that hearing a tune long after the occurrence evokes a memory of it.”

Different Notes for Different Folks

No two pieces of music are exactly alike – and neither are two humans. A piece of music associated to a powerfully positive memory for one person might cause another to feel an overwhelming amount of internal grief or sadness by dredging up negative memories.

The organization Music and Memory ( donated iPods loaded with personalized selections with elderly or infirm patients. They train elderly care professionals, such as nursing home staff or family caregivers, on how to create a personalized playlist.

This personalized playlist can help those struggling with dementia to reconnect to the world around them, even if it’s only for the duration of one song. This helps build the bond between the patient and the music therapist, as well as aides the patient in achieving goals.

Instruments as Music Therapy Tools

Some dementia patients who are still in the early stages may benefit from playing an instrument like a piano. This is true whether they already possess the ability to play from training they receive earlier in life or if they use some type of learn piano program as part of their music therapy.

A paper by the National Institutes of Health suggests that piano instruction can enhance memory in elderly. It works by performing a type of cognitive intervention that could even prevent the worsening of dementia in some elderly patients.

Piano makes such a great instrument because learning to play it requires repeating the same notes over and over again. The repetition helps improve memory function. Mastering initial practice pieces and moving on to slightly more difficult ones adds in the bonus feeling of accomplishing goals.

Benefits of Music Therapy

The therapeutic benefits of music for elderly patients are really too many to list in one article, but a few include increased cooperation with staff, a calmer social environment, fewer instances of agitation, and even a reduction in the need for antipsychotic or anti-anxiety medications.

Personally I agree with executive director of Music & Memory, Dan Cohen, who said, “When I end up in a nursing home, I’ll want to have my music with me. There aren’t many things in nursing homes that are personally meaningful activities. Here’s the one easy thing that has a significant impact.”

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Written by Rick Mercado. Freelance writer Rick Mercado is only in his early 30s but has been a fan of music throughout his entire life. His favorite tunes are only an iPod away whether he is working on his laptop at his local coffee house or hiking along his home in eastern Canada. A big fan of his country’s history, Rick is always up for finding new places for outdoor adventure on land or in the water.


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